Case study: DavidsonNews.net (USA)

Based on an interview with editor-publisher David Boraks March 2 2011.

The name of the publication and / or company

DavidsonNews.net (Corneliusnews.net is a sister site), LLC company

Established

December 2006

Web address

davidsonnews.net

Describe your site or business in few words.

A community news website that uses paid staff, volunteers and community contributors to provide news and information about what’s going on here in town. They are also building a community: in places like North Carolina where – at least up until recently – the economy and population has been growing really fast, small communities like Davidson has been growing so quickly that it is really hard for people to hold on to the sense of community. DavidsonNews.net  helps by providing a common page for us all to be on.

Staff numbers

Who’s creating the content

Content creators, paid full-time

2, editor covers Davidson  and the full-time writer cover Corneliusnews.net, the second website in the nearby town.

Content creators, paid freelancers

3

Content creators, unpaid

5-6 community contributors.

“I don’t rely on them for regular coverage.  I think the things that I considered to be our most important core coverage I hired somebody to do in one way or another so.”

Business, marketing & sales, paid full-time

1, chief operating officer. Has a major role in running the site and taking care of the money, has been with the company for two years

Business, marketing & sales, revenue share

3, commission only ad sales people, they get 25% of the sales.

Business, marketing & sales, other

4. A bookkeeper comes in once a week, a marketing intern, a marketing consultant that is brought in for special projects and a tech consultant.

How is your time divided between doing business and content?

David Boraks spends about 50 hours a week with his site. He would like to allocate all of his time to writing, but sometimes he has to devote time to business side. With the recent development of the second site, CorneliusNews.net, he allocated about a third of his time to work on the business side of things. But he says it is really important to understand you have to entrepreneurial mindset. It took him 18 months of resistance to realize that he can’t be just the journalist he used to be.

“You know in an ideal world I would love to get back to the point where I am not doing any of the business stuff because I am a journalist in heart.  But at the same time it’s been really a challenge and it’s been fun for me to try and figure how to grow the business. I did try last year to hire somebody to be a business manager for the whole business and it just didn’t work out the way I had hoped. I realized that when you are starting a small business and you have a vision you really need to do a lot of that leg work yourself, you can’t turn it over to somebody else and expect it to happen the way you want it to.”

How they make money

Revenue models and sustainability

Would you say your business model is sustainable?

They have been sustainable for the last two years but are investing heavily right now. (Update: The new site Corneliusnews.net is profitable October 2011.)

“We are in the growth and investment phase.  I would say you know at that point I hope it will be showing clearly in the black in 2012. There is a natural market area here that would probably be a half-dozen sites.“

How much is your yearly or monthly revenue?

2009 75,000 revenue, 50,000 expenses

2010 95,000 revenue, 75,000 expenses

2011 130,000 revenue, 130,000 expenses (projected with two sites)

2012 over 200,000 (projected with three sites)

Where does your revenue go?

Labor is the biggest cost.

“I run on word press which is a you know open source content management system and so that doesn’t really cost me much. You can get an account with a web host for a really minimal amount.”

How much do you pay to your contributors?

All four share about $1800 a month, that’s the total of freelance payments. Depending how many hours they work.

David Boraks was taking a thousand dollars a month out last year but decided he’ll rather invest that money on the company. His wife works full time and he makes money working as an announcer and reporter for the public radio station. He also does some photography and outside writing. Some of the investments come from his retirement savings.

What about profit?

Right now DavidsonNews is on an investment phase: a new site is being rolled out and a full-time reporter is being hired to do reporting for the site. The new site is expected to start generating revenues in 2-3 months and should be profitable in seven months.

What kind of advertising you sell?

Seventy five percent from banner advertising & classifieds, on monthly basis. Twenty percent comes from voluntary subscription payments (same model as in public radio) and we kind of use a, its like a public radio model. A percentage of the audience wants to give you money, in a way or another. They don’t have subscription plans yet.

“Although we are full profit business we run campaigns a couple of times a year, create an event. It is kind of a chance for our readers to get to meet us, come drop off the check and maybe hear some music or got a happy hour. We use all of the same kinds of appeals that a public radio station would use: you get value out of reading the site.”

Boraks has two good reasons why he uses monthly rates vs. cost per impression or CPM.

“It’s not possible to charge CPM rate or a click through rate or anything like that for a couple of reasons.  Number one is most of the mom and pops that we deal with just don’t understand the web well enough to grasp what that’s all about. Number two is that you can’t compare Google ad CPM rates to ours: with Google you get zillion ad views everywhere but with our ad you get thousands of viewers who are within a couple of miles of the shop.”

A small percentage, about five, comes from additional services: design work, websites and photography. Boraks has done a little bit of speaking and consulting about hyperlocal news, but is having a hard time getting anybody to pay him to talk about it.

What would be the most important thing on your road to sustainability?

“Think of yourself as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, not just as a journalist. I think it’s a seemingly simple shift but it’s really hard for some of us to do. Don’t skimp on marketing and remember, your audience might not be on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Put ads to the neighborhood newsletter, sponsor community events and put a banner out there. And make your site a part of the community.”