How Local and Independent Publishers Can Stay Relevant and Generate Revenue

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Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, perhaps small local and independent publishers should be designing a brand new type of vehicle for a different kind of road. There’s a certain freedom in the startup mode and energy of a small paper. Just as a new college grad has the whole world ahead, indie and community papers have nothing but options. Use them to your advantage.

Maybe it seems like revenue streams are too elusive. And maybe they really are with your current approach. But when you combine the roadblocks that most longstanding publishers face with the freedom to travel another way, you have a perfect reason to look at publishing differently.

Everyone is trying these days to redefine what it means to be a profitable newspaper publisher. Major newspapers are no different. But without any carved-in-stone standards to rework and few ties to the past, smaller presses can be the Earthshakers and innovators. You choose what stories to cover and how to cover them. And you decide where to find the revenue that keeps your small local paper on the road.

RELATED: Finding the Next Frontier for Newspapers and Paid Advertising

For small presses, the industry might never resemble what it once was for major national newspaper brands. And that’s OK. It won’t be the same for them, either. In fact, it already isn’t. Nearly every day, there are new stories about cutbacks, buyouts, downsizing, and restructuring. Smaller publishers come in at the ground level of a different era. That lets you build new standards, take chances and define a niche. And that could be a much better path than trying to copy what the bigger names do.

As major newspapers scramble to find more, and more dependable, revenue streams, it’s not at all surprising that indie and small community papers can struggle even harder. But it doesn’t have to be a competition. Maybe small publishers just need to shift gears. Instead of navigating through the remnants of the past to see what still functions, you can design a vehicle that will propel you into the future.

Independent Publishers Have a Built-in Relevance Niche

One of the biggest benefits that small local and indie newspapers have going for them is relevance. Larger publishers cover news broadly. And that leaves the community focus mainly untapped. A national paper can’t very well cover every community. And even larger local dailies and weeklies can only drill down so far before the newspaper becomes watery thin.

That’s not the case for small local publishers and community newspapers. Instead of approaching the news from cruising altitude, you can drive in at the ground level. A 2013 Pew Research report on new revenue streams suggests that some of the greatest rewards are found in the development of the niche market. When you aren’t worried about national headlines, you can find what matters most to your target audience and develop new ways to deliver it creatively.

And if national stories need a place in your newspaper, being an independent publisher lets you take an existing story and flesh it out for something meatier or deliver it in a clever way. Why does the story matter to the community that you cover? Are there details that the larger papers skimmed over that you can shed more light on? Probably.

Former New Haven Register editor, Matt DeRienzo, tells Poynter’s Benjamin Mullen that he remembers a time when a “scrappy little site” called the New Haven Independent scooped him again and again. That was possible, he says, because while his paper was focused on traditional stories, they had a “laser-like focus on the city.”

The independent newspaper niche is focused relevance. When you have relevance, you have value. Readers and advertisers come back to publishers that provide something they can’t get anywhere else. DeRienzo says he learned a lot from that experience. Now, he’s the executive director of the nonprofit, Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION).

Success Means Something Different for Different Publishers

Niche-market publishers can only grow so large before they’re no longer a niche. What makes a small press so valuable is its devotion to a smaller section of the population. While you’re defining what publishing means to your newspaper, think about where you see it in the future.

The majority of indie presses don’t last very long. And oddly enough, many of them don’t seem to mind. DeRienzo says, “One thing we [LION] think the world needs to be at peace with is that when I say the growth is eclectic and messy and grassroots, that goes for lifespans as well.” Many indie papers last about five years, “then the person moves on with their life.” And then another indie paper pops up to keep the industry moving forward.

That’s an important point. There’s phenomenal growth in indie publishing. New papers pop up constantly. But market saturation doesn’t seem to be an issue because of the ever-cycling nature of the small newspaper.

There’s also nothing to say that indie papers are inherently short-lived. If LION’s take on the industry is right, many indie publishers don’t want to run a small press forever. It’s not that they can’t or that the market won’t support it.

For others, there’s a sweet satisfaction in being a permanently small press. Community newspapers have dotted the American landscape for hundreds of years. And while much has changed, one thing is perennial: people have a desire for news that affects their lives. Success with a healthy revenue stream comes in many different shapes and sizes. With a niche paper, you get to decide where the paper will go and how to get there.

New Technology Brings Sustainable Ad Revenue Within Reach

Of course, the elephant in the indie paper newsroom is revenue. Theoretical discussions can make it sound as though revenue grows like apples in an orchard, always there for the picking. But the truth is that it takes work. Fortunately, the revenue-building technology that major newspapers use is available to a publisher at any level.

A job board can drive substantial revenue to your bottom line. If you think that only major publications can operate a successful one, you’ll be surprised. It ties back into relevance. Your circulation numbers might not be enormous. But your indie brand carries loyalty. And loyalty is valuable to employers looking for job candidate access.

You’ve got a few ways to approach it. Some publishers have the resources, time and desire to build a job board from scratch. That can be costly, but it’s also completely customizable. If there’s a programmer on your team, it could work. Then there are varying levels of job board software for publishers. Some of it requires a lot of legwork and some of it requires almost none.

Of course, a job board can’t generate revenue until it’s populated with recruitment advertising. Some newspapers have a dedicated ad sales department. But many independent newspapers don’t have the resources for it. A job board partner can get your job board off the ground from day-1.

Imagine a niche job board that’s aligned with the focus of your niche newspaper. With a job board partner such as RealMatch, relevant job ads automatically populate job boards within the network, including yours. Programmatic advertising makes it possible.

independent publishers
By 2020, programmatic ad buys will be the norm.

Programmatic Advertising Makes Publishing a Smoother Ride

The revenue-generating success of programmatic advertising revolves around Big Data. Data holds the answers that advertising salespeople and advertisers have always wanted but didn’t know how to get. For example, data reveals who’s reading your newspaper, when they’re reading it, what stories perform better, which device they use to access it and even the path they took to get there. And data from advertisers helps their ads fit where they’ll perform best.

For every action and choice, there’s data. Analyzing that data creates a map. Putting that map to use creates advertising success with fewer wrong turns. It transforms your publishing niche into a valuable job board market with quantifiable results, which is something that’s missing for many advertisers. They love results.

Unfortunately, analytics is also a niche that many publishers can’t or don’t want to get into. That’s where a great job board partner really revs up. When data analytics is built in, the process becomes a lot more seamless. It’s automatic.

Employers can make an ad buy, and their job ads automatically hit the right job board channels for the best results. Predictive analytics leverages past performance to continually improve job ad performance over time. They more they use it, the better it performs.

Using data about your target audience, which translates to job candidates, and data from the advertiser’s needs, the ad buy automatically hits the most appropriate job boards in the network at the right time. Plug performance metrics into the GPS and the road gets straighter and straighter with proven ad results and revenue that you can count on.

Independent publishers have a whole new landscape ahead. And it doesn’t have to be the short-form version of what industry giants do. You might wonder how to get your newspaper on the right path and keep it that way. But they’re working to weed out old directions that no longer take them where they want to go. You’ve got a brand new atlas with a clean slate.

The freedom that comes with indie publishing can make the newspaper business fun again. Remember fun? It’s not gone, it’s only been napping in the back seat. With more predictable ad revenue funneling in, you can focus on why you wanted to get into the publishing business in the first place.

Wondering how to put this new job board revenue to work for your newspaper? Check out our webinar, The Emergence & Impact of Programmatic Advertising on Recruiting. It’s easier than you think.

Carole Oldroyd

Carole Oldroyd is a writer and graphic artist living in East Tennessee. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, LegalZoom, and numerous other magazines, websites and blogs. When she isn’t writing, she can be found restoring her historic Victorian home piece by piece.

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About Carole Oldroyd

Carole Oldroyd is a writer and graphic artist living in East Tennessee. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle, LegalZoom, and numerous other magazines, websites and blogs. When she isn’t writing, she can be found restoring her historic Victorian home piece by piece.

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