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Case Study

Vail Daily shows how Swift Communications built a chain of small resort-town newspapers

This is part three in a series on super-healthy newspapers in 2019. Where they are, who they are, how they do it, and why they matter.

Alisa Cromer
Posted

If you head south from Wyoming into Colorado and Utah you'll begin running into the Swift  Communications newspaper markets in resort towns like  Park City, Utah; Vail and Aspen, Colorado among them. 

They look a lot like Jackson Hole, but operate on a completely different model. 

While the Jackson Hole News & Guide is  paid-circulation, Swift newspapers are distributed free.

While the News&Guide is a single, family-owned paper, Swift operates a chain of newpapers with mostly centralized digital initiatives.

The 25 newspapers acquired over six states are  largely in mountain resort towns; it spun off four small newspapers outside of these demographics in early 2018. 

Vail Daily is the largest newspaper in the group, running about 70 pages a day during high seasons, including 24 to 36 pages of classifieds, mostly real estate ads, during the high summer and winter seasons. 

As publisher Mark Wurzer says of Swift´s strategy, “If you want to have a good business you want to be in a good market.“ 

But that is just a start. Key to operating a successful resort-town newspaper is developing editorial strategies to appeal to both visitors and tourists, who don´t always have similar interests. 

In fact, like Adam Meyer, the associate publisher we talked to over at the Jackson Daily. Wurzer is lazor-focused on audience development, even though his newspaper´s circulation is free. 

He breaks down the Vail Daily’s market for me into three groups: 42,000 full-time residents, 18,000 second homeowners and a tidal wave of 4.5 million visitors. 

“We have to balance covering important local issues such as the housing shortage and cost, the high cost of healthcare and childcare and the development/environment equation with stories that appeal to locals, second homeowners and visitors who are here to have fun and enjoy the active outdoor lifestyle.


Part of the Vail Daily circulation, distributed strategically in 500 newsboxes, includes hotel rooms. 

So far, the paper has managed to saturate all three audiences; a fall 2018 survey shows 89% of locals, 87% of second homeowners and 56% of visitors read the Vail Daily in the past week.

To create better content for the lifestyle-oriented audience, Wurzer teamed up with two other resort town publishers to test a separate digital visitors guide, create on the OneBoat platform (see case study here)

The pilot, Tahoe.com, launched a few years ago now brings in estimated revenues higher than $500,000. The Vail Daily and Summit Daily are now on the platform built around “Stay, Play, Shop and Eat” reaching visitors before they arrive and when they get to town.  

“Most of what we do is very local... Editorially we always look for something we can provide that nobody else can. That's what's unique here and in our other mountain resort markets.” 

“Big metro markets are having a more difficult time both with readership and the business model that supports local journalism.” 

Corporate offices do provide a centralised digital strategy, with services fulfilled by AdCellerant, a Denver-based digital agency, as of mid-2019. That partnership allows them to sell virtually any digital service from programmatic ads to SEO. 

“We are a small company so we have to decide whether we can do it better ourselves or by partnering.”

Still more than 80% of their revenue comes from print, including a rich variety of glossy magazines. 

Like Jackson Hole’s publisher, Wurzer thinks a key part of the magic dust that keeps the company relevant and profitable  are values that running deeper than strategic thinking. 

In spite of chain ownership, the company is flexible enough to allow local initiatives like the OneBoat partnership. And there is something else. 

“[We] are strong believers in how important a good newspaper is in the community. We reinforce every day that good journalism is good for the community and is good for business.”

 “It may sound funny to say this but our company really has a good soul.”

 

 

 

 

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