It seems to me that 2010 is going to be the year the game changed for online local.
The right factors are finally converging: quality local content, awesome mobile devices, and local advertising services. It’s getting much easier to envision what the tapestry of local media and advertising will look like in just a few short years.
And for that reason, I say to the newspaper execs of the world: please stop fussing about with pay walls and get serious about online local.
Let’s look at what they’re facing.
Yes, there are thousands of excellent local bloggers out there. But online local is not just about independents anymore. Big money is being spent on local websites. And the new tapestry is a mix of professional and amateur, old and new.
Examiner.com is now in 240 major local markets in North America with plans for continued expansion. In fact, they recently announced that they hope to increase the number of “Examiners” (local contributors with specific interests or areas of knowledge) from 30,000 to 85,000 by the end of the year. The site brands itself as the “insider source for everything local”.
NPR also has plans to delve further into online local. Prong 1 of Vivian Schiller’s 3-pronged strategy is “A focus on local”. In April, Schiller told
BusinessInsider reported this week that AOL’s Patch.com will increase their number of sites from 30 to something in the 100’s in 2010. Patch hires professional journalists. AOL’s careers site has 53 job openings at Patch, mostly editorial positions. (I believe there is huge potential for Patch to drive ROI for local advertisers by utilizing AOL’s network of 80+ other sites, but that ‘s another blog post.)
And then there’s the much anticipated and yet to be named Jim Brady project at Allbritton. Jim is hiring 50 of the digital world’s best journalists (including Steve Buttry, a big favourite of mine), to go head-to-head with the Washington Post. If Jim is successful, his site will spawn many imitators across North America. (I had lunch with him last month. I think it’s going to be terrific. And he promises to give it a name soon.)
Last, but certainly not least, the Guardian in the UK is getting in on the act with the launch of their Leeds site earlier this week.
An iPad not only allows you to take the Internet with you wherever you go, but unlike a dumb-old lap-top, it actually knows where you are. It’s connected to your community. So is an iPhone, Blackberry or a Nexis One. If the job of local media is to reflect, affect and connect the community, things just got a lot more interesting.
Not only is there now more local content, devices are able to target that content, along with advertisements to consumers with greater accuracy, creating greater relevancy and likely, greater ROI for advertisers.
I’d say something about Google Buzz here, but frankly, I’m still on the fence…
An August 2009 Kelsey Group survey revealed that 77% of small and medium sized businesses are using online media (compared to 69% using traditional media). However, a Nielsen study found that half of small businesses spend less than 10% of their marketing budgets online.
Why haven’t more local advertisers spent more on the web?
I think it’s because it’s just been two damn hard. Too hard for local businesses to buy online ads and too hard for local websites to sell online ads.
Advertisers have had to manage a complex dance of multiple ads across multiple sites, calculating multiple ROI’s and working with multiple sales reps. For publishers, the problem has been finding a profitable business model. Sales reps often encounter high-maintenance, unknowledgeable clients who lack websites and online creative. The cost of sale becomes prohibitive in a high service, high volume, low revenue environment such as online local media.
But it’s starting to get easier.
Take PaperG’s PlaceLocal product. Enter a business name and it will pull images, reviews and other information from the web and create an online ad for the advertiser. Automatically. Cool. The time and cost of creating online ads has been one of the major stumbling blocks preventing local websites from acquiring new advertisers, or generating sufficient profit from the ones they have.
Mark Potts is doing his part to make things easier with GrowthSpur. As he told BusinessWeek, the platform will help enable “citizen ad sales” as publishers will be able to sell ads onto each other’s sites. GrowthSpur will also provide much needed sales training.
In addition to GrowthSpur, networks such as CityGrid by City Search, Reach Local, Local.com and Addiply are all trying to make it easier for small businesses to begin advertising online. If they succeed, the revenue potential is enormous.
Now. How will newspapers respond?
I hope they will separate their print and digital organizations and operate their websites like lean, mean, start-up machines. I hope they will enable a team of smart, excited digital staffers to create the Complete Community Connection like the one that Steve Buttry will surely introduce at the new Allbritton site. I hope they will see the iPad as a tool for delivering more context to readers and ROI for advertisers instead of a great way to finally make users pay for content. I hope they will form a local ad network such as GrowthSpur and hire expert digital sales staffers to make it hum.
But I fear they will do none of those things. I fear they will hinder themselves with their large, expensive infrastructures and traditions.
You know what I mean. Print staff selling online ads, old media notions of staff roles, (i.e. one role, no multi-taskers) and how they should be paid, a fear of voices and opinions from outside the newsroom…
Ugh. It’s depressing. I hope someone proves me wrong.