Indy Websites Competing with Mainstream Media

Who will report the news? That’s the question I keep asking as the Mainstream Media continues losing reader share. If digital media — websites, e-zines and blogs — are to take their place, they need to develop a business model that brings in enough advertising or subscription revenue to support the hiring of journalists to gather and package news for an interactive, online environment.

Market research released by Borrell Associates Inc., of Portsmouth, describes the rise of local websites as a competitive force in local media markets. Hundreds of independent websites are making money, some reporting revenues well into the six figures. Some even have been acquisition targets. Said author Dorian Benkoil: “Six years ago everybody was rushing into the local space with city guides. AOL was pursuing Digital Cities, MSN was launching Sidewalk and CitySearch was everywhere. They all retrenched or abandoned the space. But with tremendous growth in local advertising in the past two years, city guides and local independent city sites are back with a vengeance.”

There’s only one problem: The profitable websites shun local news, focusing almost exclusively on “fun and interesting things to do around town.” There is still no viable business model for an online publication that gathers and packages state/local-level news. But it’s a sign of progress to see that any category of online publication is proving to be financially viable. One step at a time… We’ll get there eventually.

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5 responses to “Indy Websites Competing with Mainstream Media”

  1. E M Risse Avatar


    Your observations on AOL (I did my best to warn the “Digital City” Team when it was launched) and others are right on.

    You are also right about the focus of current village, community, Subregional and Regional scale efforts.

    Your hope for the future, however, may be misplaced.

    Insights we will include in our early January column suggest a less optimistic future for “news” and for useful information in general.

    This body of information includes intelligence that citizens, their families (and civilization as we know it) must understand to achieve a sustainable trajectory and survive beyond a few more generations.

    Keep up the good work…


  2. AOL is thoroughly screwed up, and not just in location.

    Jim, your BLOG makes how much?

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I’ve sold advertising (Print and Online).

    One way blogs could make money is to share revenue.

    If every blog that appears on the bottom right side of this website were part of not only a “Virginia Community” but also a “Virginia Advertising Community” with profits being shared based on traffic it might become a profitible venture.

    Just a thought.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Anonymous 1:19, You think like I do.

    Step #1: Identify a list of quality blogs that (a) publish regularly, (b) track their traffic, (c) are willing to adopt minimal editorial standards of conduct, and (d) are willing to post either skyscraper ads on their right-hand columns, or “sponsored” content in their text.

    Step #2: Form a syndicate for placing political/public policy advertising, selling the combined circulation of the blogs.

    Step #3: After paying sales, ad-creation expenses and other overhead, share net revenues with the blogs on a basis that’s proportionate to their traffic.

    Sound like a plan?

    Do you know anybody who’d want to get into that business? Do you think we could take a syndicate to Media General, Landmark or the Washington Post to do the selling for us?

  5. Anonymous Avatar


    Anon 1:19 here.

    You are 100% right on step #1.

    I would also add that online advertising is a function of 2 things. The first is overall traffic. The second is the number of clicks an ad gets on a particular site.

    For example, a site that gets 1,000,000 hits/month sounds like a good place to advertise, right? Well, if it only generates 1,000 clicks on a particular ad it’s not necessarily better than a site that that gets 10,000 hits but generates 500 clicks on the ad.

    The click through ratio on the site with 1,000,000 hits is 0.001% while the ratio on the 10,000 hits is 0.05. You would have to establish upfront how to pay the members of the community because the guy with 10,000 hits could argue he is more valuable to advertisers.

    The advertisers are really only concerned with the clicks they get so this is more of an internal issue that need not be shared with them. Besides, if they don’t get the clicks they will quit advertising so it becomes a moot point.

    I would watch out for the syndicates….they would simply add your blog community to their suite of ad mediums, which will dilute the true value of what you offer….same with agencies.

    The better model is to get it up and running, generate a profit, and then sell it to the highest bidder.

    Once it’s up and running it’s also feasible to allow new blogs to join the community…..for a fee. I think it’s totally possible.

    So, how much traffic are we talking?

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