Lockdown has been particularly harsh for the local press that has lost its vital advertising revenue as neighbourhood businesses were forced to shut down. It almost spelt the end for seven hyperlocal magazines in Brighton and Hove that have been serving these UK towns for 16 years.
But even as the local economy started to reopen, many business owners were cutting back on paid advertising. This, in turn, reduced exposure to prospective customers and impacted businesses' revenue.
To help both the community press and local businesses to have a greater impact with less money, Clark decided to unite seven separate titles into just two: The Brightonian and The Hovarian. These two titles now cover all seven neighbourhoods previously served by individual magazines, thus increasing advertisers’ exposure while still bringing relevant, hyperlocal content to the residents.
The new magazines are divided into colour-coded sections that correspond to the original hyperlocal areas, making it easy for residents to find news specific to their neighbourhood.
Four months after launching the two titles, Clark is positive that the decision made business sense. For example, Kemptown Rag, a magazine that previously reached some 3,000 readers, now goes to 12,000 households as part of the combined magazine. This allows advertisers to reach more clients while spending money with just two titles rather than seven.
The commercial success of this new venture was underpinned by different approaches local businesses had towards advertising. While many halted all spending, some local tradesmen saw lockdown as a business opportunity. With people stuck in their homes and DIY sales soaring, they double-downed on advertising their services. According to Clark, those who did are now reaping the rewards: one local electrician even asked for the size of his ad to be reduced because he was getting too many enquires.
But, while the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down, it is not just advertising money that is hard to come by. With events and local groups impacted by the pandemic, there is also less hyperlocal content. So bringing together the seven titles also makes editorial sense - instead of scrambling for community news every month, the two titles now bring city-wide news to all residents.
"With less advertising and editorial space but also fewer businesses willing to advertise, it finally balanced itself out," says Clark, whose workload is now about 60 per cent of what it used to be when he was publishing seven titles a month, while he keeps roughly the same income.
"The big concern was what the residents will think about the change," he continues, adding that readers often like to keep the print copy of their hyperlocal magazine to have, say, their local plumber’s contact details at hand.
But when the first issue came out In July this year, it received overwhelmingly positive feedback. The only complaint was about the title of The Hovarian that some residents disliked because of the way it sounds. There were different suggestions for the title, Clark explained: Hovearian, Hovearan, even Hovite, but an audience survey revealed that the majority called themselves 'Hovarians', which was also confirmed by the Hove council.
"A few years ago I was wondering whether print has a future. But people like to flick through their magazine, to have it in their homes. We are here to stay," concludes Clark.
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