Organisations such as Talk About Local have helped encourage local people and community groups to get online and the motivations for starting a website have ranged wildly: from would-be and working journalists keen to establish a new local news source to interested locals who are passionate about their area and want to share their view of it more widely.
But few of these new independent sites are looking to create a business from their hyperlocal offerings. Those that are, ventures like Google AdSense alternative Addiply, are being watched by established local media players with interest. Online publishing start-up Cut Media wants to join their ranks with its local magazine sites aimed squarely at local business customers.
The idea began as many hyperlocal sites themselves start, Jonathan Lloyd, co-founder and director of Cut Media, tells Journalism.co.uk: "There was no local website for the King’s Road so one Saturday over a beer, we jotted down our ideas for a local site and went for it."
King's Road is Cut Media's flagship site for Media Street. A new version of the application was launched earlier this month to give local businesses more of a presence on local sites. The first release in April mapped businesses local to the site creating a directory; updates have since added local promotions, advertising space and product reviews.
More than 500 businesses have signed up to King's Road site and its Fulham and Notting Hill Gate counterparts.
Eventually Lloyd and his partner Jack Rutter want to flick the switch and let Media Street's technology loose, allowing anyone with a suitable domain name to set up a local site instantly. Users will be given a certain degree of autonomy over how the site looks and operates.
Right now, Lloyd wants to use the King's Road site to prove there's a business model in what Cut Media is doing, he says.
"We knew local publishing would be hard and that the technology we used would be important. We didn't want to have to replicate something new every time. With Media Street, we're developing a software application which enables us to scale up and plug in any URL, deciding what features we turn on for each local site," he says.
The company has been self-funded, with a business loan to match, so far, he adds. How it will make its money is down to the subscription packages on offer to businesses. The model is currently shaped around year-long subscriptions to the King's Road site on which business can buy features including a listing, local offers or notices in a soon-to-be-launched What's On section.
Some content has been built around the commercial elements of the site, with a blog and the option to sign up for a local newsletter. Cut Media plans to licence the technology for Media Street out to other hyperlocal sites or bigger media groups interested in creating or overhauling an offering to local businesses and advertisers. The start-up is also advertising for local reviewers and a community manager for its existing sites, which thought paid at just £400 per month includes a 5 per cent share of online sales revenue from the sites - similarities with Associated Northcliffe Digital's Local People sites, but with added incentives fitting of a start-up's mentality.
"The response we've had so far has been encouraging - both from local businesses and readers. Local businesses are desperate to promote themselves online and readers want to find out what’s going on locally," says Lloyd.
"The first release only went live in May so the reach of Kingsroad.co.uk is still growing. It's set to reach just under 10,000 unique views this month and with new features on the way, this will provide more content and push traffic levels up. Search marketing is the main traffic driver for us; followed by email and social media.
"Offline is starting to work hand in hand with online and you'd be surprised how powerful local word of mouth is. We're now leaving stickers for local shops to put in their windows and we leave leaflets in the local pubs and bars."
How Cut Media's targeted approach to business will scale will be interesting to watch. But for those that do, a hyperlocal model that starts with the commercial rather than for a love of content could be in the making.
Free daily newsletter
- Local or global, a virtual network of contributors improves newsroom resilience
- "I don't trust the news trying to tell our stories."
- New fund for public interest journalism gives £60k to 20 struggling UK newsrooms
- The Bristol Cable launches new tool to engage readers with local journalism
- Newsrewired to offer 40 virtual places to local journalists thanks to support from the Google News Initiative