More than two years after launching as a hyperlocal news site, the Worcester Sun in Massachusetts has begun publishing a weekly Saturday print edition to coincide with its digital content. The debut issue hit newsstands on Dec. 9.
According to president and co-founder Mark Henderson, each edition includes 16 full-color broadsheet pages but will increase as advertiser demand or subscriptions grow. The paper is currently available for home delivery and retail purchase in Worcester and a number of nearby towns. The $2 per week subscription cost of the print version comes with digital access to stories posted online every Wednesday and Sunday.
“The most important thing to know is our strategy, which is to build a media company that supports the creation of journalism,” Henderson said. “If you look at it in this way, you realize digital and print are both monetizable platforms for the delivery of that journalism, and print, despite the long-term trends, is economically still a very strong platform if you execute it well, maintain low costs and have reasonable expectations of return.”
The Sun is run entirely by Henderson and fellow co-founder and editor Fred Hurlbrink Jr. Ultimately, the pair intends on hiring more staff as print hits the market and becomes established.
In addition to offering a new medium for their readers, the print edition also provides an opportunity to generate revenue through advertisements. The Sun’s banner ad-free website sits behind a paywall that requires a membership priced at $2 per week.
However, Henderson acknowledged that sponsored posts will eventually be added to the site in order to capture some of the ad business going to Facebook. The sponsored posts will equate to an online classified section, Henderson said.
“Our data strongly suggests there’s a market for print in our area, especially if we can leverage our low cost structure to provide value to advertisers and readers alike. That part is key,” he said. “We’re approaching print advertising with an eye toward having the price be competitive with digital.”
Henderson said the biggest lesson they’ve learned running a hyperlocal news site has been the power of email newsletters.
“This has been a product that has exceeded expectations. Our open rate versus subscriber rate is and has been about 12 to 1, meaning there’s an audience we consistently reach, engage and monetize via email ads that hasn’t yet paid,” he said. “One of the things we hope our print product allows us to achieve is a better understanding of how we can convert more of those email subscribers to subscribers of our product.”
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