By: Nu Yang
As more newspapers face declining print-advertising revenue, the York (Neb.) News- Times has found a solution with white-label software company OwnLocal. Based in Austin, Texas, the company offers a variety of online tools for newspapers: Local Hero, a marketplace business directory; AdForge, print-to-digital ad conversion software; daily deals; Web building; and Arcade, a game creation tool.
OwnLocal founder and chief executive officer Lloyd Armbrust has a history with the newspaper industry, having worked as an advertising representative at Knight-Ridder before helping GateHouse Media and Morris Communications bring their newspapers online.
“During that time, I saw that the smaller businesses advertising were having problems with their ROI (return on investment),” Armbrust said. “The (online) banner ads weren’t doing it, so I wanted to create something that newspapers could sell, and that businesses with a small budget could see a (profit).”
When OwnLocal was ready to launch its software in 2009, the York News-Times became the company’s beta site. Armbrust had been the paper’s online director before leaving to start OwnLocal.
Current News-Times online director Eric Eckert said the 4,000-circulation daily paper had been searching for a system that could display print ads in a user-friendly way. He said switching to AdForge was a “seamless integration.”
“The ad is not a one-day image,” publisher Greg Awtry said. “We have our own archive, and the print ad stays in the system for 18 months. It’s a great feature for advertisers and sales reps.”
Eckert said there was also a renewed interest among advertisers to have coupons available in the Local Hero business directory. Seeing their name and their deal on the website’s homepage was a benefit to them, he said.
“The businesses like it because it’s simple and versatile,” Eckert said. “Their competitors even have contacted us, asking, ‘How do I get in this?’”
In 2010, online revenue brought in $120,000 for the York News-Times, representing 12 percent of the paper’s total revenue that year. Awtry said 15 percent of total revenue now comes from online.
“As soon as we flipped the switch in 2009, we saw results,” Awtry said. “We saw no push back from advertisers, because they really liked the idea of the bundled print and online ads.”
Eckert said there was an online push forward with technology, to be ahead of the game. He plans to do that by continuing to work hand-in-hand with OwnLocal on projects such as bringing the marketplace into a mobile setting. Awtry said he would like to integrate classified ads into the directory.
“Print will be around for a while, but there needs to be a really good way to get the product to readers,” Awtry said. With the growing usage of tablets and mobile devices, he said newspapers are in a good position to embrace the movement.
OwnLocal also recently secured funding from WordPress developer Automattic and an estimated $100,000 from Knight Enterprise Fund for media innovation.
“The funding from Knight is what we’re most excited about,” Armbrust said. “It’s good validation that we are a company that helps newspapers.” OwnLocal (ownlocal.com) currently serves more than 100 publications in 35 markets.