The print product (which costs subscribers $40 a year) gets to keep certain features, particularly poetry and fiction, as its exclusive domain. Heavy-stock paper and large-format photographs also enforce the product’s worth, and one could argue that Mason has figured out a way to skip ahead of the degradation of print and settled in at a point in the future where print products are valued for their exclusivity. That said, This Land’s web product is equally satisfying. Thie multimedia elements are more than just thin, high-tech sketches of something that appeared in print. They’re well-produced, stand alone features, imbued with all the style and personality of the print product.
The investment from LaVoi will increase This Land’s web presence, and new hires include a three person videography team and a full-time web developer. The expansion will also include a new managing editor, the publication’s first full-time reporter (Nicks), and three business staffers. (LaVoi will take over as This Land’s publisher while retaining his duties at Mimosa Tree, his venture capital firm.)
This Land has been consistently willing to experiment in its business dealings, and it will be interesting to see if that trend continues now that Mason is handing the publisher’s reins over to LaVoi. One example of these innovations, which Mason attributes to Wired editor Chris Anderson and his ideas about free pricing, is that copies of This Land are distributed free to local coffee shops on the condition that the proprietors sell rather than give away any copies. The coffee shop owners get to keep 100% of the revenue from any copies sold. Mason sees this as a way to instill value in his product while simultaneously creating a motivated sales force—the only cost to him is a few hundred copies of his paper. This Land has also experimented with auctioning online ad space to local businesses. Businesses go online to bid, and get to see what other business are bidding. “We actually get thirty or forty businesses a month bidding for five advertisements,” Mason says. “Interestingly enough, the prices that the ads sell at get close to what the actual retail rate is.”
There are plenty of questions that remain to be answered for This Land. Like the rest of the industry, it’s future growth is largely dependent on whether it can get a decent return on local web advertising. But a huge portion of the media industry is working under the assumption that a relevant publication is the foundation of a viable business model. On this front, This Land has nothing to worry about.