The Hyperlocal Publisher Landscape – Five Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Hyperlocal Publisher Model

Broadstreet recently ran a three-part webinar series covering every detail needed to conceive, launch, and grow a hyperlocal publisher. We were excited to welcome more than a dozen experts in the space – legends of local news who have created thriving publications – to discuss how they did it and what you should do first.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the major challenges facing every hyperlocal publisher, how to overcome those challenges, and what it takes to be successful in today’s industry. Want to watch the full video series? Access the resource center, complete with all three presentations, and all of our worksheets ready for download here.

The Local News Landscape in 2020

The number of print newspapers is dwindling, while the number of digital news outlets is on the rise. The hyperlocal publisher landscape is clearly growing but still in flux, with new challenges that publishers are finding innovative ways to overcome.

Although it’s clear that local news is playing an important role during the COVID-19 outbreak, only 14% of U.S. adults say they have paid for local news in the past year, either through subscriptions, donations, or becoming a member of a hyperlocal publication. Pew Research has found that older Americans are more likely to pay for news, but they’re also more likely to subscribe to traditional print outlets than newer digital publications.

Thankfully, many of the issues facing the hyperlocal news industry today have potential solutions.

From getting people to pay for the news they consume, to attracting advertisers, and fighting back against budget shortfalls, it’s sometimes necessary to take a step back, understand the pain points, and re-think your strategy to find solutions that will work going forward.

Here are five challenges that some hyperlocal publishers are facing, along with some strategic advice about how to overcome them. (And if one of the obstacles you’re facing is retaining advertisers during the COVID-19 pandemic, then be sure to check out our webinar on how to do just that.)

5 Biggest Publishing Challenges & How to Overcome Them

Challenge #1 – Selling traditional ads

The hyperlocal publisher is competing against more than just the local print newspaper. In the battle for local ad dollars, they’re competing against technology giants like Google, Facebook, and Yelp, in addition to legacy media outlets, like print newspapers and television stations.

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to temporary financial struggles for many of the small and mid-size businesses that advertise in hyperlocal publications. Although there is concern that those struggles may lead to a pull back on spending, hyperlocal publishers are finding ways to avoid a downtown in advertising revenue.

How to Fix It:

Hyperlocal publishers are taking some creative approaches as they took for ways to prevent losses in advertising revenue. One way that publishers are holding onto longtime advertisers is by forming deeper partnerships and finding new opportunities to work together through the pandemic. Some publishers are offering discounts to advertisers who stick around during Covid-19. Others are providing additional value, like running sponsored content or native content packages for advertisers who continue paying for display advertising. 

New ad formats and creative advertising solutions are providing value that small business advertisers can’t get anywhere else, and that’s helping to hold on to advertisers even in times of economic uncertainty.

Challenge #2 – People are easily distracted

The kind of hard-hitting reporting that wins journalism awards isn’t necessarily what holds onto readers’ attention. Hyperlocal publishers are competing against social media and other mobile apps, as well as television and podcasts, for their audiences’ attention. 

Roughly three-quarters of Facebook users (74%) say they visit the site daily, and half do so several times a day, according to Pew Research. Hyperlocal publishers are finding it harder to pull readers back to their own websites. What’s the solution?

How to Fix It:

The competition that hyperlocal publishers face isn’t going anywhere. Local newsreaders in most areas have dozens of options to choose from, but as traditional channels like print newspapers continue to decline, digital publishers are picking up new readers.

The most common strategy among hyperlocal publishers today seems to be publishing on as many channels as possible. While websites remain the central hub of most local news outlets, publishers are also promoting content on social media channels like Facebook and Twitter, as well as email newsletters and even podcasts. The publisher’s goal is to keep people engaged in their content, even as they bounce from channel to channel. 

Challenge #3 – Building a solid website takes work

Anyone can throw together a blog and call themselves a publisher. In order to succeed, though, true news publishers need to invest in structurally sound websites that include all the bells and whistles for SEO. Custom websites take a lot of investment, in both time and money, and that’s a challenge for some less established digital publishers.

How to Fix It:

The saying, “You get what you pay for” is certainly true when it comes to building custom websites. Templated websites that people can set up themselves usually don’t provide the ROI that most publishers expect, despite the low startup costs. Hyperlocal publishers are finding the best results when they work with web developers who have industry expertise. Developers who regularly work with hyperlocal publishers understand the potential pitfalls, and they are better able to integrate plugins so publishers can update content and drop in display advertising on their own. 

Challenge #4 – Increased competition

The barriers to entry to become a hyperlocal news publisher are low. When anyone with an internet connection can setup a website, professional hyperlocal publishers face a challenge as far as competition is concerned. Even websites that aren’t selling ads or selling subscriptions can be seen as competitors. The rates and packages they are offering to advertisers might be expected of other publishers in the area. This sort of intense competition for readers and advertisers becomes an obstacle for hyperlocal publishers who are working to build truly profitable businesses. 

How to Fix It:

Differentiation is the key. Hyperlocal publishers who expect to turn their news sites into true businesses need to find ways to differentiate themselves from hobbyists. What do the hobbyist publishers lack that the professional publisher can provide, both for readers and advertisers? The hobbyist publisher might run display advertising, but does he offer the latest ad formats? Hyperlocal publishers can build a reputation within their communities by sponsoring local events and launching community events calendars. They should also commit to publishing on a regular schedule as a way to keep readers engaged and coming back on a regular basis.

Challenge #5 – Some readers are reluctant to pay

But with some advertisers pulling back on spending during the pandemic, publishers are finding that they have to look for new revenue streams to survive, and subscriptions seem like a logical solution. The question now is how to make subscriptions work when you have an audience that’s not interested in paying for the news.

How to Fix It:

Publishers have the most success in selling digital subscriptions when they are providing real value for their readers. People can get news from anywhere. In most cases, they can learn the same information for free by checking a publication’s social media page or asking around in a local Facebook group. That doesn’t mean subscriptions won’t work, though. 

In order for subscription sales to be a viable revenue model in local news, publishers have to find ways to provide real value to their subscribers, leveraging the natural advantages they have as hyperlocals. VIP events (even virtual) give subscribers a sense of belonging. So do “freebies” and swag, like t-shirts for subscribers who renew at the end of their contracts, or ad-free podcast episodes. Any kind of value that the publisher can provide is an incentive for people to subscribe and renew their subscriptions at the end of their terms.

Learn More About Hyperlocal Publishing and how you can get started with your own in our three-part video series:

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