local media insider

New business model for small print markets

If it works, Joe Boydston's WordPress platform built could revolutionize digital models in small print markets

Alisa Cromer

Company: McNaughton Communications
Markets: Three dailies and three weeklies in central California,  ad model  live in Davis, Placerville and Fairfield.
Key Executive: Joe Boydston, Head of Interactive

Challenge: Joe Boydston, head of interactive for McNaughton thinks outside the box when it comes to building business models for small newspaper markets.  Some of his thinking just starts with common sense: even with 200,000 page views, the maximum revenue from a cpm based model ($10 x 3 units=$30 x 200 =$6000 x 12 months) would just $72,000 a year in small markets. His team wanted a solution that would move to an open-source platform, and develop models that would facilitate shifting revenues online without killing the value of their audiences.


1. Eliminate expensive Content Management Systems (CMS), and rebuild on open source platform, Word Press. Boydston notes that not only does open source cut costs, but also the  newest version has powerful features and the software has the deepest selection of programmers. 

2. Banner ads match print ads in size and days running. The ads appear online on the same pages as the print edition, and are built to the same sizes including:
Full page instertitials appear after the third page view.

"The Value proposition to the advertisers is that that they buy one ad and get the entire audience."

The upsell, rather than increased CPM's,  is increased frequency - that is, more days of the week or month in both print and online. Theoretically, training small merchants to buy the whole audience by the day, will position the company to sell audiences and day parts for more money as print readership shifts online  by online readers. For example of pricing, a 2x2 ad is $75 for one day, though the advertiser can buy muliple days. 

3. Editorial work flow goes digital first.
The policy - in every reporter’s job description and in the performance review - is that every article goes on line first, where it is tweeted and retweeted. The first tweet is automatic, as son as the editor posts it. The reporters job is to retween with commentary.

"By time it goes inot print have already received feedback from the social space."

Letters to the editors are published online, then queued for print.  So articles may be online for a day or two, "sometimes a week," before they appear in print. 

4. Ads are sold to a specific page online, though the story on that page may change.

As an example, letters to the editor are published as they come in, and queued for print, so the ads on page A7 online may have run against a different story. The technology to match the ads to the stories was created by a programmer.

After three pages, for example, a full page ad shows up as an interstitial..

"We are trying to establish the value of the reader,  not paper or plastic. We never been able to achieve that same model deigitally, access to audience.  If you put an offer on the ad  everyone knows it will perform."

5. Banner ads are still allowed. For agencies who require standard banner ads, they can still buy them. 

6. The Word Press Foundation spreads the technology and model to other small publishers. 
McNaughton has started the WordPress Foundation to help other small publishers automate using the same open source platform.  Since other McNaughton papers are on Word Press without the ad to story page matching, so the technology without the innovative business model is already built and up for grabs. They will also recommend programmers. 

"We can turn on any newspaper in about five minutes.... Now it’s a scale issue, all the time and money can be used by other peope. You need someone to web hosting, but it scales very easily, price goes up incrementally as we add papers to it, that’s it."

The only real cost is having to adopt this work flow internally, and having programmers on hand for future changes. 

McNaughton properties have already been pay-walled since 2001, using a model which charges only for users outside the area, detected by IP address. "I'm not a fan of metered model I feel like you are punishing your most loyal fans... and a hard paywall didn’t’ make alot of sense either."

Mobile is free. "It's an unpublished secret that if you want the paper for free you can get (the newspaper) on mobile," he says, which accounts for 65% of page views today. 

As of 2012, Word Press platforms were live for 3 daily and three weeklyies, the ad model was live in Davis and Placervile and Fairfield.

Lessons learned

- The choice of WordPress over Joomla was made simply because "the development community is massive...I can always find someone who knows wordpress.  The resources ar just huge."

- The key to success of WordPress is the large developer community. "When I’m done developing its avialable for someonelse to expand on, and this is likely to happen in a larger pool of collaboration."

- "Everyone outside the industry  "gets it," McNaughton says referring to the model. " Chambers and the Rotary Club give this rave reviews. The only barrier is our own staff is reluctant to strategically sell around the model." 

-  This solution may not be appropriate for a Metro, with massive impression,  but for a small market community papers.

- Tools are important. "We  bring out an ipad and a copy of the paper and the advertising experience is different. At the end to the day the presentation  makes sure that digital is valued." 

Alisa Cromer

The author, Alisa Cromer is publisher of a variety of online media, including LocalMediaInsider and  MediaExecsTech,  developed while on a fellowship with the Reynolds Journalism Institute and which has evolved into a leading marketing company for media technology start-ups. In 2017 she founded Worldstir.com, an online magazine,  to showcases perspectives from around the  world on new topic each month, translated from and to the top five languages in the world.

mcnaughton comuunications, newspaper, cpm cms, content, wordpress