When it comes to hyperlocal, the problem may just be that the local reporting doesn’t reasonate with the community as much as the old community papers did. That’s the feeling behind Main Street Connect, a new company launched by a team that includes community newspaper publishing vet Carll Tucker; his wife, financial columnist Jane Bryant Quinn; and former SmartReply Exec John Falcone.
The company, based in the New York area suburbs, is set to compete against several other companies with local editorial and sales, including AOL’s Patch.com, U.S. Local News Network and HelloMetro; as well as local news aggregators such as Topix and Fwix; event aggregators and city guides such as Center’d, American Towns, Eventful and Zvents; and SEO-based “content creators,” such as Associated Content, Examiner.com and Demand Media.
There have also been several very well funded hyperlocal startups that have hopes of reproducing themselves as a template, including The Bay Citizen and eBay Founder Pierre Omidyar’s Honolulu Civil Beat. CMS platforms that work with existing publishers such as Matchbin and Townnews are also major competitors in the space.
Main Street Connect started out a couple of months ago with The Daily Norwalk, Since then, it has added The Daily Westport and The Daily Fairfield. Five other local sites will soon be launched in the area, with more than 50 planned by year-end. The key is to bring in genuinely local reporting. “The non-local sites don’t get into the fabric of the community,” says Tucker, who is the company’s editor and publisher.
Tucker says the plan is to go from 50 to 3,000 sites within a few years, mostly using an affiliate model. Tucker feels there have been a number of very good hyperlocal sites launched, but they really haven’t had either the scale or the focus on revenues to be truly self-sustaining. WestportNow, for instance, does a great job serving Westport.
In the 1980s and ’90s, for instance, The Patent Trader, Mt. Kisco NY – Tucker’s flagship paper — served a community of between 90,000 and 120,000 residents, and might annually gross $1.8 million and keep $200,000 to $300,000 as profit. But the new economics of the Web might allow much greater profit levels of $1 million for similarly- sized communities.
Main Street Connect’s model is to sell local advertisers on “Annual Visibility Packages” that would include prominent display ads on the “Digital Town Green.” They may also include additional advertising services that might be paired with the site’s social media efforts on Facebook and Twitter, and possibly, other online outlets such as e-newsletters. Social media links and pages currently account for 10-20 percent of the company’s present usage.
Tucker notes that the company is “seriously funded” by high profile executives, and its board includes such people as the chairman emeritus of Young & Rubicam and the CEO of Saks, Inc. It currently has a core base of 25 full time — albeit virtual — staffers, including 11 editorial, six sales, four engineers and four administrators. The company is being advised by new media consultant Dorian Benkoil.