From the Publisher’s Desk: Anyone want to buy a website?

TeresaWhile this title is a bit sensational, it is in part, true. My Edmonds News and sister sites MLTnews and Lynnwood Today, are “for sale.” Let me explain.

This October, I will mark my seventh anniversary publishing My Edmonds News. (I acquired MLTnews and Lynnwood Today a few years later after the founders of those websites could no longer keep them going.) I am proud of what I have built and I am particularly proud of staying “in business” despite ongoing revenue challenges that small-town journalism entities — both print and online — face.

As I was driving home from last night’s City Council meeting, I found myself overwhelmed with emotion. The reason was not exhaustion or frustration, although I have certainly felt that following some council meetings. It was because I had received a compliment from a reader regarding an obituary I wrote last week for local solar power advocate Chris Herman, who passed away at the age of 58 after a year-long battle with cancer. “It moved me to tears,” she told me.

For the past few days, I have been in a slump, questioning why I continue to do this work that I passionately love but requires an extraordinary level of commitment — to those small business owners who trust us with their precious advertising dollars, to those who read every day and have come to rely on the information we provide, and to those who regularly contribute photos and articles or design graphics or sell advertising or troubleshoot technical issues and deserve to be compensated.

Receiving that praise after telling the story of a community member who died too soon — but left behind a legacy that will live on — reminded me that this type of story telling is incredibly important. And the point was driven home further when I realized that no one else — no other local or regional print or online media — had written about Chris’s passing.

I want to be clear that I have never loved a job more passionately than online community news publishing. But there are brutal challenges that eat away at the edges of that passion, and those are not going away. So today, I am going to be brutally honest with all of you.

Challenge number 1: Ad revenue is not enough to fund what we do. We have wonderful advertisers, and a number of them have been with us for several years. I am grateful for their support, and I am also grateful that they are seeing results from their advertising. But, the truth is, just a small percentage of locally-owned small businesses spend money on any advertising, anywhere. In the glory days of newspapers, classified and display advertising generated lots of dollars that funded robust journalism efforts. But that was before the Internet in general and Craigslist in particular forever changed the way we access news and advertising.

Challenge number 2: Readers expect news to be free. You follow a link from Facebook to a story and are angry because the site requires a subscription and you have already used up your allocated number of “free” articles. You have canceled your newspaper subscription because you get your news on your phone or your iPad. For most of us — especially those who grew up with the Internet and smart phones — there is no commitment or loyalty to any one news source. We rely on what we come across on social media, what our friends are sharing or what we happen to catch on television or the radio.

While I have not implemented a subscription-based system for content, I have stepped up my efforts to ask readers for voluntary donations. And I thank all of you who have responded with monthly, annual or one-time donations. But the absolute truth is, it’s not enough. Across all three web sites, we average 9,000 unique visitors a day, yet have approximately 100 regular subscribers TOTAL, who give an average of $10 a month or $100 a year.

Challenge number 3: Facebook is not our friend. Like most publishers, I post everything we write about to our Facebook page. If it’s a hot topic, the post goes viral and is shared far and wide. If it’s more mundane — like a meeting report — it is likely to be ignored. While Facebook posts can be helpful in generating traffic back to our websites, many of you know that Facebook is constantly changing its algorithms and it’s a moving target as to what you will see in your feed. Today, Facebook announced it’s changing its News Feed to prioritize friends and family over news organizations. The bottom line: this shift that will cause referral traffic to publishers to decrease. Why does this matter to me? Site traffic is key metric for advertisers, to ensure that their messages are seen.

So let’s get back to my announcement that our websites are “for sale.” Many of you likely followed the saga of local public radio station KPLU, which was going to be sold to KUOW until listeners raised $7 million to save it. That campaign involved more than 24,000 individual donations by people who valued what the station provided.

I am asking all of you to make a similar investment in community journalism through a voluntary subscription. Do it now, while you are thinking of it, at this link — online or by check (address is provided). You’ll be supporting people like Larry Vogel, who energetically covers Edmonds with stories and photos; Natalie Covate, who not only writes about Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace issues but faithfully attends every Edmonds School Board meeting; Emily Hill, who chronicles the arts and entertainment scene; Kathy Passage, who writes about our local restaurants; along with all our other wonderful writers, photographers, ad sales people and graphic designers — too numerous to list but all sincerely appreciated!

And I am asking every one of you: Business owners who can’t afford to advertise but may be able to afford $3 a month; civic leaders who tell me how much they appreciate what I do; readers who stop me on the street. You know who you are — and I need you.

I can’t say it any more strongly that this: There is no “magic bullet” for saving local news. If there was, all those news organizations that have gone out of business — or significantly downsized — would be thriving. I literally cannot do this work without you.

Until next time.

Teresa Wippel, Publisher

  1. So what does it cost? How short are you? What would be a best-case scenario?

    I realized, as I hit the never-before-noticed subscription link above (might want to make it stand out a bit more) that I have no idea what I could/would commit to. I have no idea the value of this news to me in dollars. Having some additional information would make that analysis easier.

    1. Appreciate your thoughts and we will be working to make the subscribe link more prominent. As I said earlier, this is a request for voluntary subscriptions based on whatever people can afford to (or want to) pay.
      Teresa

  2. Joe – what would you have paid for this service back in the days of print newspapers? I think that all of the people who follow this site could easily afford to contribute $3-$5 per month. And while that may not seem like a whole lot, a few thousand contributing that amount per month would add up. Plus, we know that Teresa is the type of person who would use that money to come up with more innovative ideas and provide us readers with even more value. I just signed up for a $3 monthly contribution, and hope many more of you will join me in doing so.

    1. I have never subscribed to print newspapers. I was field service. I got all the news I needed from the radio. I delivered newspaper back in elementary school, before they took that job away from kids. Per quantity this news source is only a small fraction of what that was. Inflation since the 70’s completely negates my understanding of what value that was.

      I work in the world of open source. Most everything I do is targeted toward making life better for everybody. I have an employer that pays me for my time and creates a product around the free software I work on. I’m somewhat disconnected from value for information.

      That said, I do recognize that there is value and I recognize that when you provide free (as in freedom) intellectual property it’s hard to ask for money to support it. I’ve run a technical blog for six years and have made a whopping $7 in donations with each article receiving about 3000 page views/day for the first year and continuing to receive an average of 300 views/day ongoing – even though it was a big red button (I’ve since changed my big red button asking for donations to cancer research and they’ve received $30 in one year. I feel much happier about that then I ever did getting cash donations). I want this community resource. I want to support it in a manner that is appropriate to my income level and the needs of this product. Knowing the needs helps me figure that out.

  3. I think it comes down to several factors.

    1. While you believe that these are huge sites and have many followers, the truth is most stories only have 200 – 500 page views. While that is good, you have to balance it out for what it is worth. Truth is you don’t do a lot of advertising and expect people to know about this through word of mouth/random Google searchers or whatever.

    It would be great if this was as big as the old Lynnwood newspaper that was published every week, but it isn’t. People just do. not. know about it. So the question is what have you done besides put up a FB to spread the word? I have honestly never seen mention of this page anywhere ever and most of the people I know in the area have no clue what this is.

    The saying of ‘if you build it, they would come’ isn’t always true in the Internet age.

    2. How much would you need? How much goes into website costs? Did you hire someone to do editing/report?

    Most people don’t donate until they know what their money is being spent on. I, for one, don’t donate to a charity until I know that it is 1. legit and 2. where the money is going and to whom it is going to (CEO, sales teams, etc).

    3. This is a letter from a publisher, but it might be a good idea to embrace the Internet age. I work as a writer and many old time journalists frown on ‘new age’ journalists. They go on and on about how things arent’ the same but don’t embrace change. That is what I got out of this letter.

    1. Doug, appreciate your thoughts. All I’m asking for is for folks to subscribe voluntarily. You can either see the value in doing that or not, just like when the Seattle Times or the Everett Herald pings you to let you know you’ve reached your monthly limit of free articles and you can subscribe. I’m not a charity. People who know our work and respect us understand that we are journalists committed to covering the community. Lynnwood Today’s editor Natalie Covate has a masters in journalism from Boston University.

  4. Have you considered merging the 3 sites?

    When I visit the Lynnwood & MLT sites and they usually have a lot of the same articles. It is understandable that there may not be a lot of content for each city, so get rid of the redundancy (and extra hosting cost) and just merge them into a “SW Snohomish Today” site.

    1. We actually have considered the possibility of combining the two sites and yes, there is some content that is shared. But the truth is, the hosting costs for each website are actually really small. The biggest expenses are paying reporters and photographers who cover the city-specific events that go on in each place, which frankly residents of the other community are unlikely to care about, such as Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace City Council meetings and related commissions and board meetings, public safety issues like police reports and crime followup that are city specific. Each city has its own fairs and festivals and school and church and business news that doesn’t overlap – yet often requires a real person to attend, take photos and report on — or at least to edit information that is submitted.

  5. 1. I have been impressed by the reporting and applicability to the local community since I learned about Lynnwood Today while visiting the Convention Center last month for a City Center information event. I had no idea it existed until now. Someone gave me a flier and asked me to sign up on an email list.
    2. Since I get an e-mail with the headlines and first lines, I rarely go on-line. So I rarely see the adds. Though, to tell the truth, even if I see adds on-line, I don’t think I have ever bought things based on them. Not to discourage having them, just to let you know that is how many of us readers are.
    3. The public radio/tv model of asking for contributions can work. If you notice how they do it, they are relentless, they tell you how much they need, they tell you that you won’t receive the service anymore if they don’t reach their required contributions and they have campaigns twice a year. They don’t stop when the campaigns end. They keep at it every day (“… when you receive your mailing, please send it back with your check… ” ). They have ‘gift levels’, etc. I am no marketing expert but, it clearly takes a huge effort to get attention from contributors. The population of Lynnwood WA is around 37,000. Maybe some of the surrounding communities would sign up but I doubt it since they have their own news. How many people, at what level contribution, do you need to sustain you and your staff?
    4. I would love to consider contributing but I would like to know if it will actually make a difference. I doubt that a $3 per month suggested will do it. $3 x 12 = $36. If you have every resident (grownups and children) contributing at that level you would get $36 x 37000 = $1,332,000 per year (this is an unrealistic maximum). Add it to your advertising dollars. Will this pay you and your staff? I suggest that you figure out your absolute minimum that includes expenses and salaries. (and apply for non-profit status, if that is the case- no profit there). Then tell us how many people need to contribute how much. I would be willing to give way more, but I don’t want to be the only one and have you fail anyway.
    5. I agree with Doug in that there needs to be a better way to get the word out about your work. Can you get PUD or Lynnwood City put ads in the billing statements?

    Hang in there, we like your work.

    1. Hi Marcia: Really glad you found us and appreciate the feedback. We have been trying to do as much outreach as we can at various events, like the one at the Convention Center you attended, but I agree, we are invisible to a lot of people. As to what would make a difference, all I can do is keep asking folks and my experience has been that the number of subscribers grows over time, as I keep asking (to your point of the public radio model). We are planning to do some community coffee events this summer where readers will be invited to share their ideas on how we can improve coverage and circulation. I hope that you will attend! Teresa

  6. Teresa, don’t know how I could have totally missed any requests for support by subscription, but I did. When I saw this (very scary!) headline, I thought, “Oh, no! Teresa’s throwing in the towel.” I value so much the work you do and have done as a journalist in our community, and my heart sank at the thought of losing you and Lynnwood Today. When I realized you were simply asking for readers to subscribe, I immediately signed up. Thank you for your dedication, determination, and great work. I don’t know how you manage to do it on a shoestring, but I value beyond measure the local coverage you provide – it’s dependable, honest and diverse, and I count on it to know what’s happening in my community. Thank you!

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