Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Analog dollars to digital dimes

This is the first of a series of brief columns I am writing for four newspapers I own in Midcoast Maine. I am trying to keep our readers abreast of what we are doing and where we are going at The Bar Harbor Times, Capital Weekly, The Herald Gazette, The Republican Journal and their related VillageSoup web sites.

Rockland —The Internet is continually disrupting old marketing and communication practices across society. Every business -- from real estate and travel agencies to lodging owners and financial advisers -- must adjust to establish new relevance in light of their client’s access to information they previously controlled.

The newspaper industry has been profoundly affected by this wide-open access to timely answers once controlled by newspapers, when that information existed only in print. Clay Shiky, an American writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies, describes the impact of this new access as a matter of newspaper publishers having to trade analog dollars for digital dimes. He says, “Digital revenue per head is not replacing lost print revenue and, barring some astonishment in the advertising market, it never will."

Village NetMedia with its four newspapers and VillageSoup are actively experimenting with ways to sustain time-honored professional journalism to support – and enhance – the communities we serve. Some in the news industry are standing firm, holding on to past ways, awaiting a clear view of the future.  Both approaches can be successful; each has its own risks: either you change too quickly and do not survive the crossing from past to future, or you change too slowly and miss the boat altogether. We are constantly re-evaluating our plans and progress and correcting course accordingly.

It is a fact that Village NetMedia is leading the industry with its unique online approach to serving those seeking timely answers to questions. No other news organization in the world is likely generating as much traffic, participation and revenue serving a market as small as we are in Knox and Waldo counties. We appreciate that you are responding so strongly to our approach. (For readers of this blog: In two 40,000 population markets we enjoy 2.5 million monthly page views; 152,000 unique monthly visitors; 70% of these visitors have visited more than 200 times and we generate more than $500,000 revenue online through our membership and display ad activity)

According to a recent study reported by Al Diamon in DownEast.com, our two web sites are generating more than seven to 10 times the traffic of the websites of all other Maine weekly newspaper websites. We exceed the industry average for percent of total advertising revenue from our Knox and Waldo websites. VillageSoup is successfully marketing the platform used by our four papers to other daily and weekly newspaper around the country. By the end of July, we will have 15 communities outside Maine adopting our VillageSoup platform, the Digital Main Streets, with others planning launches this fall.

Daily postings by our bizMembers, orgMembers and iMembers are giving local businesses, organizations and citizens the opportunity to serve on our Digital Main Street as they do on our real Main Street. They give you timely tips for preparing your home for weather changes, keeping your children’s teeth healthy and offering special recipes for seasonal produce. They tell you their daily luncheon and dinner specials, their newest product arrivals and special rate offerings. And the proprietor’s unique personality many times come through as well.

These briefs and offers are typically viewed between 200 and 1,000 times. Our local businesses typically enter 110 posts a day alongside 45 posts from our professional journalists in Knox and Waldo counties. No other local news site serving 80,000 people achieves this level of community participation. We are proud and pleased to offer this unmatched opportunity for you to timely learn the news that affect our community, share the views that unite our community and shop the goods and services that sustain our community. If you are not a daily viewer of these posts, give them a try. And you can see them wherever you are by subscribing to our free apps for your Blackberry, IPhone and Android.

Thanks again for your subscriptions, your memberships and your presence. Please stay on board for the entire crossing.

Next column I will talk about the newspapers.