Print is dying, and hyperlocal websites notoriously difficult to make pay. But one recently-established community magazine is challenging these orthodoxies of the digital age.
Monthly magazine The filtonvoice is the brainchild of Richard Coulter, a former staffer on The Bristol Evening Post. Having taken redundancy from the struggling newspaper, Coulter looked around and noticed that Filton, a well-defined part of Bristol with a population of around 12,000, had local publications aplenty. And they were full of adverts. Yet the editorial material was poor or non-existent.
‘I thought, if I can tap into the commercial success but bring some of the skills that I have in terms of the content, there might be a model here”,’ he told NMJ.
Coulter persuaded the former ad manager of The Evening Post to sell ads on a commission-only basis. Local businesses immediately took space, and Issue One of filtonvoice, published in October 2011 with 16 pages, went immediately into profit.
The page length soon went up to 32, and eight editions later, the magazine hovers between 40-48 pages, depending on how many ads have been sold; since he is not charging for the publication, Coulter feels no obligation to commit to a certain length.
Around 5000 magazines are printed each month and delivered door-to-door by a small team, or left at pick-up points in local shops and community centres.
‘The feedback has been very positive,’ says Coulter. ‘People say it’s just what was needed. They are surprised how much goes on in the community.’
Meanwhile, the advertising revenue the magazine generates pays him a decent wage for the two-and-half-day week he spends on producing it – around 40% of what he was earning as a staff journalist.
In Coulter’s view, the experiment demonstrates that there is an enduring appetite for print publications serving local communities, as well as a market for the advertising to sustain them. He has no plans to go digital-only.
‘I’m not going to get to the point where we don’t need the magazine anymore,’ he says. ‘My view is that I simply do not see where there’s any revenue for news websites digitally.’
He prioritises print, publishing material online only after it has appeared in the magazine. No web-only advertising rates are offered, and so far only one client has requested an online advert.
The keys to success, Coulter thinks, lie in having a well-defined niche with the means to advertise, something that can be replicated by other entrepreneurial journalists in many areas and sectors.
‘Just plunge in and have a go,’ he advises. ‘There is a way of setting this up and being profitable from Day One.’
A fuller version of this case study will appear in ‘New Ways to Make Copyright Pay’, an ebook of pioneering practice that New Model Journalism is producing for the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society