NJ’s TAP Grows Indie Hyperlocal Network Through Licensing

When an entrepreneur launches a hyperlocal site, it’s not a cautious, toes-first endeavor — it’s sink or swim in deep, fast-moving waters.

New sites launched by bigger networks like AOL’s Patch and the legacies powered by DataSphere begin well prepared with editorial templates, sales guides and turnkey technology. Now, in New Jersey, indie start-ups can have all those benefits, and without sacrificing their entrepreneurial dreams.

This is possible because of a licensing program from The Alternative Press indie network of 14 sites in suburban New Jersey. TAP was launched by Mike Shapiro, a litigation attorney-turned-hyperlocal-publisher who learned the business the sink-or-swim way. Street Fight has closely followed TAP’s progress, and there’s a great update at Block-by-Block on how Shapiro is creating a new revenue stream through licensing.

One of TAP’s three licensees is Mindy Scarlett, a veteran editor and writer — in the U.S. and Australia — who launched the Scotch Plains and Fanwood site in late January 2012. “My intent is to strengthen both communities,” said. Scarlett. “My take on hyperlocal is to present things in the most positive way possible. I’m not out there to stir up trouble. Some publications take two lines out of the police blotter and blow it up into a big story.”

The kind of story that Scarlett wouldn’t touch is the one featured last fall in the local Patch site about a Scotch Plains-Fanwood high school boys’ JV soccer coach who allegedly poured glasses of wine for two of his 17-year-old players during a stop at a restaurant in neighboring Westfield. There was a community uproar — thoroughly reported by Patch — after the popular coach and substitute teacher was suspended by the school after his arrest.

For local businesses, Scarlett says “I am an active advocate. I’m not there just to sell ads or be a hired gun who will be gone in 12 months. She says she tells merchants: “An ad will not guarantee you $1,000 of business, but it’s one plank in the boardwalk to your place of business.”

Scarlett’s main competition is Patch. The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times is a 53-year-old print weekly, but it only publishes its front page on the Web. Her focus has been building an audience. In her four months of operation, she said she’s landed 10 local advertisers, with “five to 10 waiting in the wings.

Under TAP’s licensing program, participants pay a $2,500 fee in their first year, $5,000 in year two and $10,000 in year three, plus 10% of their ad revenue.

Shapiro says a licensee, “after the three-year ramp up, should bring in $50,000 to $100,000 in income (after expenses have been taken out for licensing fees, freelance, ad commissions, marketing etc.).”

“It’s a great model,” says Scarlett. “The R&D and branding are already in place. Mike is extremely responsive. His advice and guidance is phenomenal.”

Shapiro gives his licensees a lot of slack. But he emphasizes: “It is important for them to realize both the incredible responsibility it entails to serve as a town’s community newspaper and also the opportunity that it presents. This isn’t something to take lightly and a licensee needs to be in it for the long term.  It’s all about being embedded in the community, developing relationships with organizations and businesses, and building trust.”

These objectives are important, and so is thorough reporting — even if it involves an uncomfortable item from the police blotter.

Tom Grubisich authors The New News column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of LocalAmerica, which is developing a Web site to rank communities on their livability across 20-plus categories. The rankings will be dynamic, going up and down daily as they are updated through a combination of open data, journalism and feedback from local experts and users of the site.

Photo courtesy of Scotch Plains/Fanwood The Alternative Press, shows site editor and publisher Mindy Scarlet with Scotch Plains mayor Nancy Malool and TAP CEO Mike Shapiro.

  1. May 31, 2012

    At Happenings Media, we began licensing a hyperlocal digital magazine model out in early 2011 based off of the success of our flagship magazine, BucksHappening.com, and are now in 15 markets.  Happenings Media publications all maintain a lifestyle focus.  

    After building Bucks Happening in Bucks County, PA, we also arrived at the conclusion that passionate local entrepreneurs are best suited to launch a hyperlocal publication. We’ve found that our licensees come from varying backgrounds but all possess a community spirit & tenacity that can’t be replicated through any amount of training.  As a network, the key is in providing plenty of guidance and resources for licensees while allowing each location to build around the unique community. 

    We look forward to unveiling some exciting updates this summer!

  2. Fundweb
    May 31, 2012

    It’s a joke.  Anyone with really basic web development experience can launch a local page.
    Who in their right mind would pay even $2500 for a license plus a percentage of their recenue?

  3. Mikeshapiro
    May 31, 2012

    Thanks for covering this, Tom.  Just a quick note:  at TAP we consistently cover hard news – – in fact, we’ve broken some of the most controversial stories in our towns, including a recent armed robbery in Madison, NJ.  We just present it objectively and do not sensationalize it, and we do not allow people to publish anonymous comments. 

    Michael M. Shapiro
    CEO and Publisher, TheAlternativePress.com

    1. May 31, 2012


      TAP does indeed consistently cover hard news, and I should have pointed that out when I highlighted one news story that Mindy Scarlett found to sensationalistic to cover. A site can do its community a service by covering such a story, as embarrassing as the details might be, in the objective way TAP, under your overall direction, has been doing.

  4. Bevnews
    May 31, 2012

    The story isinaccurate with regard to the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Times. The Times and the Westfield Leader publish a 28-page web edition each week that contains all the content of both papers — police blotter, obits, school news, sports, editorials, etc.

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