While small dailies continue to struggle for revenue, some independent, local news sites have taken off like a shot. Michele’s List, which devotes its time and resources to identifying standout independent publications, recently added eight new indie community websites to its prestigious $1 million-plus top revenue category. This level had previously been held by only one publication, the Florida-based powerhouse local light brand, 30A.
With 78 percent of the nearly 100 sites included in the survey reporting a revenue increase for 2015, some of them experienced a dramatic uptick. One-third of these small publications reported a 50 percent growth, and 13 percent said revenue had doubled.
Michele’s List Criteria
Michele McLellan of Michele’s List has a set of criteria that sites must meet before they can qualify for inclusion in the survey. Broadly, the list seeks out publications that are “trying to invent new ways for news and info to survive and thrive with their communities.”
More specifically, sites need the following qualities:
- Primary focus on original news
- Demonstrated desire and effort to “practice accuracy, transparency and fair play”
- Demonstrated desire and effort to :promote civic engagement or an ethic of participation”
- Regular updates at least three times weekly, with the exception of investigative sites that might only publish occasionally
- A demonstrated effort to create sustainable revenue streams
Michele’s List hopes to enable small, local news publishers to network with each other and reveal what’s working for each of them. As the program grows and matures, criteria are added or subtracted as they’re determined to help the cause, or not.
Indie Publishers Find New Avenues for Success
The traditional display ad isn’t the bread and butter for most of the successful small publications. In fact, most of them diversify, rarely relying on a single revenue stream at all. That said, revenue sustainability is at the forefront of every publication’s mind, according to Tom Grubisich for Streetfight magazine.
Sponsored content that’s paid for by local businesses plays a major role in revenue growth. The ones that went this route reported a 51 percent increase over 2014. Video advertising also factored in. The number of publications using video was small, but it’s growing larger. Nonprofit sites derived their revenue from a mix of foundation grants and sponsorships or donations.
Ordinary dailies aren’t included in Michele’s list. Instead, she focuses on websites that approach independent community news, presentation, and revenue development differently. Where newspapers are shifting to programmatic ad sales, such as Local Media Consortium and Nucleus Marketing Solutions offer, Indies usually handle ad sales in house.
The key takeaway in the 2015 Michele’s List report is that indie digital publications are making it work using inventive methods. They are finding new revenue streams, and they’re staying afloat. Some of them, to the tune of $1 million-plus.
Meanwhile, newspapers are trying to find their way through a sea of lost revenue. Perhaps a reinvention, not a series of stopgaps, is really what it takes for small, local news publications to find a path of growth again.