PORTLAND, OREGON — For hyperlocal news sites, one problem looms above all others: while demand for hyperlocal news is growing in communities around America, the small, location-specific audiences targeted by these sites often don’t provide enough web traffic to support an advertising-based revenue model. Can hyperlocal sites become financially viable through other means? This is the problem Neighborhood Notes, a hyperlocal website serving Portland, Oregon, is currently trying to solve.
- Read more about Neighborhood Notes
Since its start in 2004, Neighborhood Notes has turned into one of the most comprehensive and popular local news sites in Portland, with 25,000 unique visitors a month, according to the its editors. The site provides information and news on business, events, land use issues, and politics, among other topics, for all of Portland’s ninety-five neighborhoods.
When people come to site the first thing they see is the city-wide view, says co-founder and photo editor Ken Aaron, but then they can go down to six quadrants, and then from there right to individual neighborhoods. Aaron and Lynette Fusilier, the site’s co-founder and editor, produce most of the site’s content, though they are constantly looking for stories from freelancers and pay a competitive rate by community newspaper standards at ten cents per word.
Despite its increasing popularity, Neighborhood Notes has yet to become profitable, which is why Aaron and Fusilier are shifting to a new advertising model. “We started with a typical online advertising model: ad slots, guaranteed minimums, all that sort of thing,” Aaron explains. “Honestly, that is just too expensive for the small business market we are trying to cater to. On top of that, we don’t have enough traffic to attract the big guys who really know how to play the numbers game.”
So starting this October, Neighborhood Notes is partnering with Supportland, an association of local businesses in Portland with around 90 members so far. Supportland works by giving incentives to customers through a single reward card that they swipe at participating businesses to get points and discounts. Accrued points gained from buying goods and services can be redeemed at the participating businesses. Now, business members of Supportland can pay $49 a month to get the association’s advertising feature, and gain access to Neighborhood Notes readers at an affordable rate.
The partnership is designed to connect the dots between consumers of local business and consumers of local news, while generating ad revenue at the same time. Aaron hopes 50 percent or more of Neighborhood Notes revenue will eventually come from the new initiative. “It’s going to be really significant,” he says.
Neighborhood Notes began as a blog run by Fusilier, who became part of the Pearl District Neighborhood Association, a volunteer committee made up of local citizens, after moving to the area in 2002. She ran the association’s e-mail list and then set up a blog people could visit to get information and news about the neighborhood. Readership grew until finally she began receiving requests from people to cover neighborhoods beyond the Pearl District. In 2008, Fusilier brought on Aaron, and the two expanded Neighborhood Notes to cover all of Portland.
Beyond its present efforts building the ad network, Neighborhood Notes is currently beta testing a more interactive membership component for the site. “People will be able to keep track of what they like, their reviews and comments,” Aaron says. Members will be able to have wish lists, keep track of restaurants they have visited—and share all this information with other members via e-mail. “There is a good readership and we’re trying to make more of a community out of it,” Aaron explains.
If current initiatives in generating advertising revenue, and interactive features on the site are popular and increase readership, Fusilier and Aaron may expand the Neighborhood Notes platform beyond Portland. “The site was built with the idea that it could be transported to other cities,” Aaron says. “That’s in our sights but we really want to get it right here. How we would do that is still up in the air.”
Neighborhood Notes Data
Name: Neighborhood Notes
Revenue Source, other Ad network partnership with local business association Supportland.
Principal Staff: Kenneth Aaron, co-founder and photo editor; Lynnette Fusilier, co-founder and editor.
Affiliations: Business: Supportland; Content: Oregonian News Network (supported by J-Lab and the Knight Foundation)
CMS: Custom System: LAMP - Linux, ASP, PHP