It’s hard to imagine a business ever advertising in its local newspaper for the benefit of being associated with the newspaper; the ad model is based on market share—number of potential customers reached—not brand and exclusivity. With This Land’s model, businesses pay to be affiliated with a high-quality product that exists, in large part, for the good of Oklahoma—and in the case of a limited commodity, like a video sponsorship, compete with one another to do so. At a time when local businesses are increasingly empowered by digital platforms to reach customers on their own, publications with a stellar brand have a huge advantage in the local ad market.
This Land is building a multimedia brand that is at once unified and multichannel. Mason and LoVoi are comfortable with the fact that a portion of their audience experiences This Land only as a TV program, while others know it as part of a Friday-morning program on Oklahoma public radio station KOSU—a weekly hourlong This Land radio show will launch on the same station later this fall. Fifty-five thousand unique viewers each month know This Land as a website; 34,000 know it as a Facebook community. (There’s surely overlap among these audience numbers, though it’s not measured.) Only a fraction of the total audience (16,000 per month) subscribes to the premium print product, or buys it for $2 a copy at local retailers. The broadsheet, which will continue to provide the bulk of This Land’s revenues, is full of large-format photography, and the ads for local bars and bike shops are so polished that they become a part of the overall aesthetic; the bulk are designed in-house for a flat $75-per-piece fee by the same design team that handles the print layout, the website, four forthcoming This Land book projects, and the iPad app. The focus is less on total audience and more on building a brand and a lasting institution that both advertisers and the rest of the community can get behind.
This Land launched its Oklahoma City print edition in June. Despite a low-level rivalry between Tulsa and the larger market 88 miles southwest, it was an obvious move. A separate print run accommodates advertisers who only want to appear in one city, but the content remains the same across both editions. This Land had always thought of itself as telling the story of the entire state—not just the story of Tulsa—and its TV show, website, and radio program have given the print edition a running start at the statewide market.
In the coming years, as This Land grows and newspapers across the country continue to shrink, the Oklahoma startup will help to answer a crucial question facing journalism: Just how big a market is necessary to sustain a for-profit operation delivering this level of quality? Can This Land continue to expand its reporting capabilities as just the voice of Oklahoma? Or will it need to reach beyond the state borders, and become a regional publication for the Great Plains?
Mason and LoVoi are open to the idea of a more regional presence, but they also are confident that other cities and states can cultivate their own operations to do what This Land does in Oklahoma. They made the rather counterintuitive bet that a place like Oklahoma, largely ignored or otherwise covered as if it’s a foreign land by the national media, was the ideal place to plant an operation whose work most resembles that of a national magazine. A list of cities and regions that are similarly marginalized would consume huge swaths of the country.