Locable Founder: Community Sites Need More Than News to Thrive
Not every community news site wants, or even should seek, to expand like some mostly independent operations are now doing. But that doesn’t mean “one-off’s” can’t achieve success. Nor does it mean they can’t gain some of the advantages of scale without climbing that steep hill. Brian Ostrovsky, founder of Locable, which supplies guidance, support and a array of tools to smaller sites, explains here how the average one-offs can do quite well even in markets where they’re facing competitors who have chosen to go bigger through scale:
You say “independent publishers can innovate locally and benefit from large-scale innovations without having to scale.” Explain how, with examples from Locable.
There are many local indies who have been successful on their own. However, they have to figure things out as they go. Even a trade association like LION is limited in what knowledge and technology transfer it can facilitate. As a network, Locable’s publishers are independent but benefit from the technology we develop as well as our training and support programs which provide ready-made solutions to an ever-expanding set of challenges or opportunities. Moreover, we’re able to explore new opportunities and develop solutions or identify third-party providers to work with in ways independents cannot or do not do by themselves.
We recently integrated Family Features content, which generates an average of 50 articles per month. This is content that’s free to the publisher and can be auto-published or completely localized.
If a single-site community publisher is in a large metro area with many defined neighborhoods, and is doing well, why shouldn’t that publisher try scaling his/her best practices to more neighborhoods, as some publishers are doing, and with initial success?
For publishers who do expand, efficiency is of utmost importance and ineffective practices will have much bigger consequences. Locable’s technology makes managing a network incredibly easy and efficient in addition to sharing content between sites (articles, event listing and directory listings). That said, publishers shouldn’t be limited in terms of the level of engagement and revenue they can drive within a given market. Locable empowers publishers to maximize both of those things whether in one small community or a growing network of sites – through a combination of technology, coaching and operational support.
Since last spring, Locable has grown from 50 to nearly 80 clients. How many of those new clients are community news sites, and what are some examples?
Our network has grown nicely despite our focus on our existing network. We’ve picked up a number of former Patchers, including Only Oswego, Your Tewskbury Today and My Cedarburg Online. Our network is still a wide mix of community magazines, community newspapers and online-only sites. It’s interesting to see what strengths and weaknesses each brings and the opportunity therein to synthesize that shared experience into new features and offerings that benefit everyone.
What does your new feature “Publisher Concierge” do?
Initially when we recruited legacy publishers we struggled to get them to adopt digital best practices despite their agreement that it was in their best interest and profitable to do so. We tend to work with small publishers who are incredibly lean and they simply didn’t have the time, expertise or manpower to evolve as quickly as they’d like. The Publisher Concierge was created to fill any and all gaps a publisher may have. In many cases we act as the web editor and community manager — in effect, their digital team. On the revenue front, we’re just now introducing the Digital Sales Coach, which is a sales training, support and accountability program for publishers and their sales teams. It’s structured as an initial three-month cohort, beginning with intensive training that explores a range of digital solutions, including agency offerings (some of which Locable can facilitate delivering on), and continues with weekly group check-ins to build momentum, camaraderie and accountability. We’re introducing the DSC as part of a larger Publisher Concierge package or a la carte.
There are “legacy” sites consisting of newspapers and broadcasters mostly and there are “pure plays,” consisting of self-funded for-profit and nonprofit independents and a few corporations like Patch and Daily Voice. Do you see more collision or convergence among these competing breeds of digital community platforms?
The media landscape is a bit like the retail landscape. Large retailers thrive in some spaces better than local indies, they can also finance their way out of problems better (or mask them longer) than an indie. For decades media companies have sold to the same small segment of larger local advertisers that comprise the top 2% to5% of local businesses that could afford the higher price point — car dealerships, medical service providers, etc. Their advertising budgets and broad (often metro-wide) reach made them natural targets. However, this meant that smaller businesses had few ways to promote themselves. Legacies and pure plays alike continue to fixate on this 2-5% segment and almost exclusively on solutions that are massively scalable with much higher price points because of the cost of customer acquisition and other business drivers. But this means that the majority of publishers in “local” are fighting for the same top 2-5% of the local market, leaving the “long tail” of smaller but more numerous businesses wide open. Hyperlocal publishers should focus their efforts on this mass of smaller businesses. Sure, their budgets are smaller, but en masse their spending power is massive and they have a limited number of ways to effectively advertise. These circumstances make hyperlocal a high-value play worthy of premium prices.
From work with your clients, what do you see as the main issues for community news sites in 2015?
The label “community news sites’ is part of the challenge Thriving local sites need to include robust calendars, directories and a thoughtful placement of articles, events and business data throughout the site. Many local sites miss the opportunity to build more robust community engagement and the revenue it can bring. Diversifying revenue streams is also critical and yet couldn’t be easier once the right approach is identified, from sponsored content (in all flavors) to featured events, social promotions, marketing services and more.
The “agency” conversation is important, but that doesn’t mean the publisher and team have to go it alone or do all of the legwork. Finally, the simple process of identifying leads and nurturing prospects tends to be overly manual and not terribly efficient. Within Locable’s technology, the process of driving community adoption of the calendar and directory, identifying promising new leads and nurturing slower-developing relationships are tied together and to a great extent automated.
Tom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) writes “The New News” column for Street Fight. He is editorial director of the in-development hyperlocal news network Local America that rates communities on their performance across a broad spectrum of livability — Local America Charleston launched earlier this year.