'Living' Proof: Local Pays Off for 'Florida Times-Union'

By: Mark Fitzgerald Florida would not seem to be the place to go looking for newspaper-revenue success stories these days. The green shoots of recovery reported by newspapers elsewhere remain mostly invisible in the Sunshine State.

The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville certainly hasn't escaped the brutal ad environment. Its financially struggling parent, Augusta, Ga.-based Morris Communications Co. LLC, reported that in the second quarter of 2009, Times-Union ad revenue plunged 34.2%.

Yet from January through June of this year, one Times-Union product advanced revenue 197%. "We're happy with the growth, the communities are happy with the product ? and the advertisers are happy," says Director of Specialty Publications Joe DeSalvo.

He's referring to Living, magazine-quality monthlies that the Times-Union composes, prints and distributes in nine gated and ungated communities in Jacksonville and its suburbs. Living replaces the newsletters produced by homeowners' associations or boards of communities that are often centered around a golf course or pool.

Under the arrangement, the communities provide all the editorial content and the Times-Union does the rest of the work to get them to driveways, at no cost to the associations. The T-U sells advertising, and keeps all the revenue. Each publication is branded with the Living title plus a community's name and a recurring tag line. One example: "Stonehurst Plantation Living. Your guide to the good life."

According to Kevin Clark, the Times-Union's specialty publications sales manager, there's been no clamor to split revenue because Living is a big money-saver for the associations. "Some of the communities were spending $10,000 to $15,000 a year just to produce a newsletter," he notes.

Producing Living is not an especially costly proposition for the Times-Union, either. Prepress work is performed by staffers who also produce a variety of other niche publications, including H, a health- oriented monthly bagged with Living for delivery in all nine communities. Living and other specialty publications are printed on a new Xerox iGen4 digital printer that produces what DeSalvo calls "really impressive quality" and lists for $640,000.

Living gives the T-U another way to reach smaller advertisers who can't afford the core product. "We've found the mom-and-pops like two things," says sales manager Clark. "Price is obviously important, but these are specific communities they really care about. You don't have to educate them on the demographic. Their eyes light up."

Since it launched a single Living publication in the fall of 2007, the Times-Union now delivers to 11,000 homes in the nine communities in which it publishes. Plans are being made to add a tenth this year, with even more possible for 2010.

The Times-Union looks for communities "where there's already cachet to the name," Clark says. It's not always an easy sell to associations, but DeSalvo adds that homeowners are happy to see their news and information presented so professionally: "It's their news, so the readership is really high. You talk about ultra-local, that's this."


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