By: Nu Yang
While content is still king at most newspapers, publishers faced with tight budgets, shrinking newsrooms, and scarce resources find themselves turning to third-party vendors to meet reader demand for specialized niche content.
These content distributors are growing in number and produce everything from special supplements and magazine inserts to stock photos and Web videos. By opening up new avenues of readership, publishers also lure advertisers with a more diverse product portfolio. The right partnership — or combination of partnerships — could mean an improvement in the bottom line in an otherwise trying economic period.
When Rebecca Alexander, Salisbury (N.C.) Post Internet director, noticed local bridal advertisers selling with national markets, she decided it was time to get in the game. The daily publication has a circulation of 20,000.
Alexander said she was contacted by Chicago-based Content That Works in January and learned that bridal sales in North Carolina were high.
Content That Works chief evangelistic officer Paul Camp said brides will typically spend about $27,000 in a 14-month planning period, and they do most of their buying online.
Founded in 2001, Content That Works produces niche content for local media partners, including auto, holidays, real estate, home and garden, and health. The company’s newest product, a bridal website called brides365.com, is what caught Alexander’s attention.
“It’s a local technology platform that’s different than The Knot and the Wedding Channel,” she said. “It has social sharing tools, where brides can send and share emails, and (engagement and wedding) announcements can be uploaded 24/7.”
Camp said his company licenses the software for the announcements, content updates, and all upgrades and improvements throughout the year starting at $39 weekly and going up to $360 weekly for a major market.
“The price is based on market size and whether the local market charges for announcements or not,” he said. “There are no start-up costs unless custom work is required of us by our clients. We also will provide a vendor directory for a charge based on market size and other considerations.”
The Post launched its brides365.salisburypost.com website in March, and ad positions were sold well ahead of launch day. “It was an attractive, new sales platform for advertisers not found online or in print,” Alexander said. The paper also increased its rates for engagement announcements that were posted online and in print.
She added, “We’re still trying to get advertisers back from the national markets, but now we have a platform for them … 85 percent of our advertisers on brides365 are new businesses for us.”
Alexander said Content That Works provided the “scale and scope” needed for the market. “With a paper our size, we could not have created this robust of a platform.”
Green Shoot Media in Greenville, Texas, has served 350 U.S. newspaper clients since its 2008 launch. The company provides content targeting niche advertisers such as holiday, real estate, and auto.
The Clovis (N.M.) New Journal has worked with Green Shoot since 2011. The daily paper has a 6,000 circulation. According to advertising director Shane Adair, in addition to the Journal, parent company Clovis Media Inc., also inserts Green Shoot Media products in one other daily publication and two weeklies.
Adair said the content is what attracted him to Green Shoot Media. “It looked clean and crisp, very professional looking, something that’s magazine quality made for a newspaper … and it’s very cost-efficient.”
Green Shoot Media owner Derek Price said pricing is based on each paper’s circulation.
Most sections are priced from a one-time fee of $119 for a paper with a circulation of up to 4,999, to $599 for a paper with a circulation of more than 200,000. Newspaper clients can use the content in print and online for one flat rate.
“A content provider should save a paper time and money,” he said. “It can get real expensive with reporters and photographers on advertising projects. The mission is to free up editorial and have them focus on reporting local news.”
Based in Franklin, Tenn., Publishing Group of America produces three magazine supplements for its newspaper partners: American Profile, focused on positive stories, interesting places, and products, has a weekly circulation of 10 million and is carried by more than 1,300 newspapers; Relish, “celebrating America’s love for food,” has a monthly circulation of 15 million and is carried by more than 900 newspapers; and Spry, offering articles on health, nutrition, and fitness, has a monthly circulation of 9 million and is carried by more than 600 newspapers.
Senior vice president of publisher relations Steve Smith said the supplements are geared toward community newspapers. “The content resonates with our newspaper readers. The editorial mission is to continue to focus on community and positive happenings … positive news is a big draw for publishers.”
The company also launched a password-protected Partner Portal in June, which allows its newspaper partners to download additional content digitally, such as features, puzzles, and do-it-yourself articles. Smith said 1,000 newspaper staff users access the site.
Chief executive officer John Cobb said the company is also branching out into digital. The group recently released Relish for Moms, a free tablet edition that includes 100 pages of photos, recipes, stories, and nutrition information enhanced with videos. A free mobile application for Relish was launched in August that turns recipes into grocery lists. Earlier this year, all three publication websites were relaunched, offering new content and multimedia features.
According to a comScore report provided by Cobb, from January to June 2012, americanprofile.com had a 46 percent growth in unique visitors and an 80 percent growth in page views; relish.com grew 59 percent in unique visitors and 60 percent in page views; and spryliving.com saw a 56 percent growth in unique visitors and a 100 percent growth in page views.
“We turned our websites into a business,” Cobb said. “We have a strong print audience, so it was natural to get into the digital side of things.”
Smith added that the supplements help fill a void in today’s streamlined newsrooms. “Our newspaper partners may have transformed and no longer have a food editor,” he said. “Relish helps add to the value of content in their editorial package.”
Cobb said another example of how Publishing Group of America serves community papers is the August issue of Spry, which featured an interview with television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz. “For a local community, it would be hard to get an interview with a celebrity.”
The Watertown (S.D.) Public Opinion inserts Relish into its publication the first Wednesday of every month. The daily newspaper has a circulation of 12,000.
“(Relish) adds a content dimension that we’re light on,” said sales and marketing manager Tim Oviatt. “We receive regular comments from readers on how they like it and save the magazine for future reference.”
Motor Matters, based in Wilmington, Del., celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The company provides newspapers with exclusive automotive stories written by a staff of 14 professional auto writers.
“They’re on the ground and on the front line of the automotive industry, so they can provide stories in a pinch,” president Connie Keane said.
She said her company serves small to large papers on a national scale. New content is generated every week, including six to seven feature stories. Newspaper partners pay for a subscription to log in and download content.
Keane said the new car guide is one of her more popular content features, but she also provides niche articles on motorcycles and trucks, plus a Q&A column with an auto expert. Keane said newspaper customers have multiplatform rights to use the content, including print and online. “Line space is valuable in the industry. With no internal resources, we can provide a service (newspapers) can’t afford to reach themselves.”
Founded in 1989 with corporate offices in Seattle, Corbis licenses images and footage on a subscription basis. Content includes commercial stock images, historical images, entertainment images, and exclusive images.
“Clients are assured they can obtain any image from any subject at any time on our sites,” said Juli Cook, senior vice president of global media operations and media strategy. “Customers are able to shop at one site and negotiate their pricing and terms, and they are able to achieve exclusivity when they desire.”
iStockphoto was created in 2000 originally as a free image-sharing site for photographers and designers. It soon evolved into the concept of selling credits and paying contributors royalties. In 2006, Getty Images purchased iStockphoto, aiding in its international growth.
In 2011, iStockphoto added a new editorial collection for journalistic use. The collection already has more than 300,000 images of subjects ranging from celebrities to more popular personal technology photos. Editorial imagery is for non-commercial, non-promotional use only.
iStockphoto general manager and senior vice president of e-commerce for Getty Images Rebecca Rockafellar said customer demand fueled the need for the editorial collection. “Media is a quick growing segment, and content on the Web needs to be updated more often,” she said. “More content should be available as media moves into digital to keep it fresh.”
With these new platforms, newspapers also have the opportunity to create additional revenue streams. Many papers are moving beyond print and using these new resources to host online promotions, cooking shows, and other nontraditional methods of luring readers and advertisers.
Based in St. Louis, Second Street is a provider of white-label software services that enable companies to build audience and databases, and generate revenue. Second Street has served newspapers for more than a decade and works with 2,500 local media companies.
“A large base of our newspaper customers now see their online advertising as static, and we’re seeing a big shift to promotions as a whole,” said president and co-founder Matt Coen.
One of Second Street’s most popular features is the contest-hosting software UPICKEM. The platform allows newspapers to create any kind of contest — from ticket giveaways to photo competitions.
The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle and its website, kansas.com, have taken part in Second Street’s annual national pro football UPICKEM contest for four years. The program runs 22 weeks in conjunction with the NFL season. Each week, people log in to the paper’s UPICKEM website to register and pick which teams will win that week’s games. The goal is to be the best player at the end of the season with a chance to win prizes, such as a trip to Hawaii.
The Eagle also sold integrated print and online promotions to advertisers and sponsors, including a double-truck print ad each Friday before the Sunday games. Second Street’s director of affiliate contesting success Julie Foley said advertisers and sponsors were VIP pickers who had their photos in the double-truck ad each week. Advertisers competed to win a free ad every week, a chance to win a full-color ad at the end of the contest, or a trip for two. In addition, the salesperson with the most sales won a travel voucher.
Foley said the Eagle locked in advertisers for the full 22-week period with ad rates from $345 to $445. In 2011, the paper earned $100,000 in revenues.
Coen said contests are always a faster way for a paper to create a community profile and a database that can be monetized. Second Street’s eBlast Engine integrates with UPICKEM to send emails, text messages, newsletters, alerts, and special offers.
“A big part of the solution is to build that email database,” Coen said. “It will help in the long term to have those emails. That’s an area newspapers are making up on … whatever is next, if a paper has built a database properly, it will be more prepared to improve its position when a new opportunity comes along.”
Green Shoot Media also branched into the digital world and launched its Ad Supercharger service this year. Ad Supercharger generates a daily email to send print ads to subscribers. It also allows the ads to be shared on social media sites.
Adair said the Journal sells the feature for an extra $10 to advertisers. The paper started using Ad Supercharger in April, and by the end of July had generated $1,300 to $1,500 a month.
Relish takes its content on the road by hosting cooking shows in more than 15 markets across the U.S. The Courier Herald in Dublin, Ga., has put on the show for two years. The Monday to Saturday publication has a circulation of 10,000.
Advertising director Pam Burney said the event was a hit for both advertisers and attendees. “We targeted vendors for our goody bags,” she said. “We also had door prizes and grand prizes, where the bank gave away a cash prize, and a furniture store gave away a recliner.”
About 800 people attended the first year, and 400 the second year. Burney said a popular feature was the VIP tickets that sold for $75 and included a private chef show, wine, hors d’oeuvres, and special goody bags.
She said the paper plans to bring back the show next year. “It’s good PR for the community and very rewarding for businesses and for us.”
In South Dakota, Oviatt said 1,000 people have attended the Opinion’s two Relish cooking shows. The paper sold five different sponsorship packages for the event. “It was another opportunity to advertise besides the paper,” he said. “We had an auto dealer with four vehicles in the ballroom, and we tailored packages to fit the business.”
Oviatt said he plans to host a third show next year. “Relish brings in the expertise. In South Dakota, it’s mostly beef and potatoes, and to have this kind of variety sparks the palate. Relish brings a flare that can’t be provided locally.”
Content in Today’s Business Model
Newspaper content has expanded beyond news, sports, and features to include advertisements, promotions, photos, recipes, and inserts. Partnering with a distributor that provides this content at an affordable rate, creates not only new platforms and revenue, but also new readers and advertisers, thereby creating a more sustainable business model.
“We’re operating in categories that are fertile for local advertising,” Camp said. “We know our customers will make money from them, and it will generate profit that can be used back in their communities.”
Price said a trend he sees is smaller and smaller niches. For example, an auto insert can be broken down into used cars, new cars, trucks, or car maintenance. “A highly focused idea means big revenue,” he said. “Some niche markets are more fragmented, but if they’re more specific, they can reach out to that exact advertiser.”
Price added that overall, “Content should be making money for the newsroom, not be an expense.”
Advertisers are looking for the perfect online promotion, and even though Coen said he doesn’t see print going away, newspapers must be integrated with digital. “(Promotions) must involve all of those channels. Online promotions and print must be complementary, because the days of clipping out a ballot are long gone.”
As newspapers go through transition, Smith said his goal is to provide them with the content they need, whether it’s in print, online, or through live events.
Through sales intelligence, purchasing trends, and customer surveys, iStockphoto found that traditional media companies are shifting away from staff photography but still need images of content-specific, real-life situations, images that provide a literal or descriptive visual reference, and images that have not been altered or edited in a way that changed the context or subject matter. As newspapers operate under budget constraints, Rockafellar said iStockphoto has a high volume of images available for them.
Cook said she sees more newspapers using content distribution companies such as Corbis in the future. “A newspaper can differentiate itself by the stories it carries. Over-reliance on one newswire source would make each paper and website look overly similar. Eventually, papers will either have to produce their own content and have their own opinions, like The New York Times, or find a content partner that can provide access to differentiated content.”