Topix CEO: To Make Hyperlocal Publishing Profitable ‘Be a Monopoly’

Hyperlocal publishing can actually be a profitable endeavor. That was the main takeaway from a fireside chat with Business Insider contributing editor Owen Thomas and Topix CEO Chris Tolles at Street Fight Summit West on Tuesday.

Topix, the hyperlocal news community born in 2007, is growing at a rate of 20% a year and now has more than 15 million visitors. Tolles said the company has managed to beat the odds and turn a profit by operating on lean budgets and diversifying its revenue stream. “We are profitable. It took a long, long time,” Tolles said. “Keeping costs down was a big part in that.”

Trying to run an online publication like an old guard newspaper company is a losing proposition. In addition to keeping costs low, Tolles said Topix has managed to find success by aggregating content and giving people the ability to create their own content. “Those things are key,” explained Tolles. “You can’t build content like newspaper guys did, which is to do whatever you want.”

One of the bright spots in the industry is technology journalism, which has a high-quality audience. By writing about technology and gadgets in particular, Tolles said publishers can attract the type of young, high-spending audience that has been traditionally been difficult for publishers to reach.

For those looking to break into hyperlocal journalism, Tolles offered this advice: “Be a monopoly as quickly as possible.” Publications like Baristanet and The Batavian have found success by building a solid audience over time, as opposed to blowing up over night. “It’s unlikely that you’re going to become a force to reckoned with quickly,” Tolles said.

In addition to hyperlocal journalism, Thomas also pressed Tolles on the role that daily deal companies like Groupon play in the hyperlocal industry. Deal providers have shown media companies that it is possible to earn revenue off commerce alone, although generating revenue through content has proven a little harder. Despite ongoing issues surrounding Groupon’s future prospects, Tolles said there’s no denying that the company has been able to give merchants exactly what want—immediate access to motivated customers. “Putting butts in seats is something businesses want to do.”

Stephanie Miles is an associate editor at Street Fight.

  1. Photodude719
    June 6, 2012

    Topix steals content from other media and adds to that by having readers do the rest. This is quality journalism? This is the lowest of the low.

  2. June 6, 2012

    I don’t necessarily have a problem with aggregated news as long as the source is credited, but the problem is the word “journalism” and Topix claims to be news. If you are aggregating a news report from a source and crediting them, you have legitimate journalism. If you are not crediting them you are stealing (not saying Topix is stealing). Journalism requires legitimate sources that can be verifed and there is the problem. People do not go to Topix to read aggregated news. Look at most of the forums and it is people bashing one another and often times lies being posted and Topix allows anything which means you have the National Inquirer. It is one thing to allow reader thoughts on legit stories, something else for some coward to go on Topix and make up a lie about Chris Tolles or whomever. That, like what photodude said is the lowest of the low. Users should have to have a valid account (a user name is fine) and should have their stories verified by a moderator before it goes out over the internet and no attacks on private citizens unless it comes from a verified news report (such as an arrest, etc) Topix doesn’t do that because their auidence is strictly those who derive pleasure in the pain of another and that is truly low. I did have to snicker at the keeping costs low comment. The strategy is basically have hundreds of thousands of libelous posts and very few employees to help the innocent attacked on the site. It may make a little money but it is unethical as one can get and if they cleaned the site up, they would actually make more money.

  3. Tell it like it is
    June 20, 2012

    Create their own content? Or control it, tea party troll style? Because Topix is not the “free” for all Tolles portrays it as being.

    The content on Topix is mostly slander and harassment. Tolles’ site is totally out of control and hundreds of thousands of Americans and their businesses are being harmed by it.

    It Street Fight wants to continue to support Tolles and Topix, shame on them!

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