Liverpool and Manchester Confidential reach 85,000 readers a week via an email with a mix of news, reviews and competitions
- Revenue comes from advertisers who buy into packages that include: a micro-site; competitions; and, advertorial
- The Manchester site has recently gone behind a paywall
- Their success is partially because the traditional local media has given up on journalism
Three years ago I was in print journalism. I was made redundant by the North West Enquirer, and, by accident, I came across Manchester Confidential. I emailed the editor and said, if he ever wanted to do something in Liverpool, I would give him my details.
Within about three minutes, he asked me to come and see him. I found this very lively online magazine. We produce a magazine that is only available on line. It’s very cheeky, a bit like Private Eye with restaurant reviews. The editor asked me if I wanted to start up a Liverpool version.
I thought, at least I am getting paid and I will probably only do it for six months. I saw it as a bit of a comedown, especially as the Manchester editor was only 23 and it was her first job. Then we started to build our email list. We did not advertise the site, growth was viral.
We publish new stories every day – restaurant reviews, music reviews or news stories. We also have a lot of competitions. We gather all the stuff up twice a week and send it out in an email. It is very competitions and offers-led. When I joined, the editorial was pretty incidental – save for the odd bit of mischief – because the company had been set up by businessmen not journalists.
I was what they called ‘a proper journalist’, and I think that I was the first one that they had ever met. So, around the time that I joined, they got in a new Manchester editor, and we started to take ourselves a bit more seriously. We took on columnists, for example. Graham Stringer MP wrote a column in which he said there was ‘no such thing as dyslexia, just stupidity’. That got us a lot of great publicity.
We have advertisers, but we are not interested in selling banners. We sell advertisers a package. It usually includes a micro site for them, within our site, which links to their offers. We organise competitions with them, and produce advertorial. Sometimes we do a stand-alone email if an offer is very good.
We do a lot of wacky competitions, like ‘take your office out to lunch’. Or, ‘take your entire office ice-skating’. Then, we email unsuccessful entrants and offer them the same thing at a 25% discount on the usual price. It is all about getting inside people’s heads and creating a buzz.
Last November my boss, Mark Garner (his restaurant reviews appear under the name ‘Gordo’), announced that ‘the five-year trial is over’. He decided to make the readers pay. Because, he said, ‘I want to present our news without fear of favour’. So, they have introduced a paywall. The deadline was last night, but it is live now.
Statistics: Manchester Confidential is accessed by 123,000 unique IP addresses a month, and the email goes to 70,000 accounts. They have 260,000 readers a month. Liverpool Confidential has 22,000 unique users and 48,000 readers. The email goes to 15,000 accounts. An awful lot of those readers are not much use, of course. We are always keen to know what people’s ‘open rates’ are. Only a fraction of the people to whom we send emails are going to be sufficiently interested to open them. Our publisher is now taking a gamble, that there are 100,000 readers that he does not care about, and he is banking on the rest to pay.
What revenue we do make will be ploughed back into the company – we don’t plan to buy a big yacht. We want to do more great stories and use really good writers. Local newspapers have destroyed things for themselves because they fill their pages with PR handouts. Local media would not been in the mess that they are if they had not locked journalists in the office and got rid of all the potentially valuable mentors once they get past 40.
There are still as many journalists as ever, but they all work in PR. Perhaps a way to break the cycle would be a few more people setting up sites like Liverpool and Manchester Confidential.
Angie Sammons is editor of liverpool confidential.com an online only news and entertainment magazine for the city. It is updated daily and goes out in an email to 17,000 subscribers twice a week. It is produced by a team of freelance journalists with in-house technical support. It has sister sites in Manchester and Leeds and attracts on average 20,000 hits per week. Angie was formerly chief sub at the Sunday Express Magazine, deputy features editor at the Liverpool Daily Post and arts editor at the North West Enquirer.