Community print media in the form of newspapers, newsletters and pamphlets has a long lineage in the UK. But it is not just habit or tradition that explains its longevity. Because no technology is required to access it, print products mean that those who are not online need not necessarily miss out.
While the UK is a world leader in online take-up, at least 18 per cent are still non-users, and that figure is higher in some areas and among some groups. This is a sizeable audience and also one – heavily skewed towards the over 55s – which remains a heavy consumer of local media. This consumption, however, tends to be focused around regional TV news, BBC local radio and local newspapers.
As Enders Analysis noted in written evidence submitted to the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee on the future for local and regional media: "One third of the readership base [of regional and local press] is over 55 and half is mid to low income, both being demographics that face significant challenges in connecting to the internet, whether in terms of skills, or the income to buy a PC and train to use it."
Lack of online access and skills are therefore key reasons why some established hyperlocal operators continue to focus on print, with the result that they often have little or no web presence.While the UK is a world leader in online take-up, at least 18 per cent are still non-users, and that figure is higher in some areas and among some groupsDamian Radcliffe
The Leys News in south-east Oxford, for example, typically only posts one new story a month on its website. In contrast, its free monthly newspaper has 16 pages of stories, photos and local advertising. The paper, which is delivered directly to 5,000 homes, is the most important source of information for local residents, beating the more established Oxford Mail, which is daily, into second place.
Over in the West Midlands the ECHO Community Newspaper, which has been running since April 1979, continues to have a very healthy print life and an equally limited website. Produced 11 times a year, and aimed at residents in the Earlsdon, Chapelfields, Hearsall and Spon End districts of Coventry, it is sold for just 30p through 20 different sales outlets. None of these outlets take a commission.
The longevity of these examples suggests they know how to reach their audiences and they deploy content and distribution models which are right for them. In these instances, this is not online.
In more socio-economically diverse areas, different models may be more appropriate. The Hackney Citizen is a good example of this, as is the new print edition of Stoke's Pits n Pots. Both have strong web audiences, but also large pockets of potential consumers who are not online.
A print-web mix therefore offers the chance to reach a wider audience and make a greater community impact. For Pits n Pots their recent print issue did more than take their content to non-web readers, it also raised awareness of their website so much that their web traffic doubled.
Different models also enable hyperlocal practitioners to enjoy different relationships with advertisers, as well as audiences. In the US, Kansas-based Lawrence.com found that no-one would advertise on "just a website", so they started printing a free "Deadwood Edition" until they felt their advertisers – rather than their readers – could make the switch to online only. The print product "died along with much of the world economy in 2009 after 246 issues".
Closer to home, HU17.net, which covers Beverley in East Yorkshire, began a weekly print version in late 2010. The spin-off paper has recently expanded to include a property section; reaching some advertisers who might never advertise on the website, but who feel the print version is more appropriate for them.
These advertising and audience considerations are also drivers in the reverse publishing trend, where journalistic copy and user-generated content are combined to produce more localised print products.
Across the pond one of the largest reverse publishing examples is TribLocal from the Chicago Tribune. The initiative supports 90 town websites and 22 print editions, which are published every Thursday and delivered to 335,000 Chicago Tribune subscribers. An additional 800,000 copies are distributed to non-subscribers on a Saturday. Not only are newspapers delivered door-to-door, but importantly they can also be found in community locations such as the town library, as well as being available online as PDFs.
What these examples seem to suggest is that print remains valuable, both as a primary tool for news consumption and as a means to highlight the best online content.
While services such as Newspaper Club and Sweeble are now making it easier for online content to be converted into a more traditional print product, partnerships with print players may offer the way forward for some hyperlocals. In particular they can generate revenue, reach and credibility by association.
Archant's recent partnership with EverythingEppingForest.co.uk is therefore one to watch, while a 2010 collaboration on homelessness by the Seattle Times and seven hyperlocals demonstrated the benefits of both a print/web mix, as well as the partnership work that underpinned it.
Print, it would seem, is not dead yet.
Damian Radcliffe (@mrdamian76) is the author of "Here and Now – UK hyperlocal media today", the UK's first review of this emerging sector. He has spent much of the past 20 years working in local media, in a mix of content and policy roles.
A former BBC staffer, he has also worked for Ofcom and led a Sony Award winning partnership between BBC English Regions and the charity CSV (Community Service Volunteers). His research and writing on hyperlocal media can be found on his personal website and on SlideShare.
Last week's Journalism.co.uk podcast explored the role of print in the hyperlocal space and its contribution to developing sustainable business models and reaching audiences.
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