The future of the weekly city paper is the daily blog. Hints of this future can already be seen at Village Voice Media, which owns and operates 15 of the top weeklies in the country, including the Village Voice, SF Weekly, and LA Weekly. Bill Jensen, the director of new media who oversees all the Village Voice Media sites tells me that 40 percent of pageviews comes from the blogs on the sites, up from 20 percent a year ago. Some of the more popular ones include columnist Michael Musto’s blog, Nikki Finke’s Deadline Holywood Daily, and Topless Robot.
Of course, the sites feature music listings, restaurant reviews, and articles from the print editions as well, but the blogs are driving an increasing portion of the traffic. The online and print newsrooms are combined and everyone is expected to post on the Web. Long gone are the days when a music reviewer could attend a rock show and turn in his copy three days later. “I don’t care how drunk you are,” says Jensen, “you post by 9 AM.”
The weeklies are essentially guides to local nightlife, and nearly all of the advertising is from local businesses (restaurants, bars, concert venues, clubs, local shops). In fact, 90 percent of the online ads across the network are local. Jensen wants to parlay this strength in local advertising, along with the company’s army of nearly 300 ad sales people across its 15 markets, into a local ad network of sorts for blogs which cover similar topics (food, music, gossip). He’s already signed up New York city real-estate blog Curbed, foodie blog the Eater, and music site Wolfgang’s Vault to sell some of their ad inventory. And he is looking to sign up more.
Village Voice Media is getting $7 to $12 CPMs for local ads and $14 CPMs for geo-targeted ads. How much of that participating blogs will get, Jensen wouldn’t say. But not only can Village Voice sell inventory on a blog that writes only about Phoenix restaurants, but it can also show ads from Phoenix advertisers only to Phoenix readers on blogs with a national appeal, such as Topless Robot, which is a more general-interest tech blog.
According to Jensen, Village Voice Media is on track to bring in $20 million in online revenues this year, nearly double from 2008. Although this represents only a little more than 10 percent of the company’s total revenues, it is growing fast. Local ad revenue alone grew 140 percent last year. Content pageviews across the network are on track to top 500 million this year, versus 318 million last year. (Or, an average of 42 million pageviews a month). Total pageviews for the year are on track to hit 4 billion, with the vast majority of that coming from Backpage, its network of online classifieds that is trying to not be crushed by Craigslist. (Backpage is a fraction the size of Craigslist, but it is actually doing okay).
Village Voice is also partnering with local social recommendation site LikeMe, which uses Facebook Connect and asks you to take a survey of local restaurants and hotspost that you like to offer up recommendations of what other people who like the same places also like.
Local online advertising is a nut everyone from Google to Yahoo to the national newspapers are trying to crack. The Village Voice, however, has the feet on the ground in its local markets to sell ads directly to businesses who are still not online. How far it can extend a local-ad network beyond its own sites and topically-related blogs is unclear, but these days in the newspaper industry any extra source of revenues that is not tied to print is something to nurture.