Indie journalism: an interview with SoGlos founders on business models and plans for version 2

I’m calling it Indie Journalism: journalists going it alone with new business models for the new media era. And having interviewed indie football journalist Rick Waghorn recently on his relaunch, I thought I’d do the same with James Fryer, who, with fellow journalist Michelle Byrne, recently launched SoGlos, a local online-only magazine for Gloucestershire.

What is the business model?

We see the business model as working in a similar way to a conventional print publication (with some differences, of course!). Readers will never be charged for any content, but businesses are offered the opportunity to reach our readers through conventional display advertising.

In addition, we also have the most comprehensive directory of arts and entertainment venues in Gloucestershire – all researched over the course of a year, with information written for each by one of our journalists – which can be ‘enhanced’ by businesses to include 100 words of their choice, images, a Google map, web link, email link and priority positioning in our directory.

Sadly the Internet is swamped with low quality directory websites which don’t offer any local expertise, or information for a specific restaurants for example, but our readers, and customers, are quickly realising SoGlos.com is something very different. The directories in each section, however, are there to support the editorial content in each case, and rather than being a ‘listings’ or ‘directory’ site, we are strictly an online magazine.

How did it come about?

After working for publications and websites in London and Dubai (Michelle had previously worked for the likes of Guardian Unlimited and ThisIsLondon.co.uk, and TimeOut in Dubai, whilst I had previously worked for publications including What’s On in Dubai), we returned to Gloucestershire and quickly discovered the traditional media were doing a very poor job at representing the region’s outstanding arts and entertainment scene.

Utilising our experience in the arts and entertainment field, we spent a full year conducting market research, assessing existing print media in the area and, in line with the trend of people spending more time every week surfing the Internet than reading newspapers and magazines combined, set about planning SoGlos.com.

SoGlos.com officially launched at the end of July after a ‘soft launch’ period of six weeks during which time it attracted 60,000 readers, and it’s since being going from strength to strength with a current readership of in excess of 50,000 unique readers per month and 250,000 hits.

How are your rivals reacting?

We’ve actually had a really positive response from many existing local publications, who as soon as they saw what we were doing immediately got in touch to see how they could get involved. In terms of the publications who haven’t yet been in touch – they’ve subscribed to our newsletter and are clearly visiting SoGlos.com every day! A number of journalists working on local newspapers and magazines have also been in touch to ask about contributing or joining the team.

The reaction from the media industry on a national level has been outstanding – with senior figures from many of the large publishing groups having got in touch to say how impressed they are with SoGlos.com. It’s something that has never really been done before in the regions – a completely-online magazine run by professional journalists and updated on a daily basis – and I think we’ve created quite a stir.

How do you see the future of the site and local journalism generally?

We see the site as it stands at present as SoGlos.com v1 – all of the groundwork is in place and we have established a good readership – but we’re continually speaking to readers and customers, and are already planning v2 which will see some small changes and big new ideas come through.

One overriding theme will be ensuring we get readers involved and embrace the idea of citizen journalism, whilst also keeping SoGlos.com a professional and trusted source. Providing readers with a mobile service is also something we’re working on, as well as thinking about innovative ways to work with Google’s mapping technology.

The ‘So’ idea is definitely something that we see as a great franchise opportunity – which could work in any city or county with a strong entertainment scene – and in each case it would require a team of experienced journalists who understand arts and ents, as well as online journalism.

We really feel this is all in line with how the media industry is moving nationally – not just on a local level. People are spending more time every week surfing the web than reading newspapers and magazines combined – and while the national newspapers have been working to create a unique online offering, regional publications just haven’t reacted on the same level. Existing publications in Gloucestershire aren’t providing readers with what they want – a free resource which is updated continually, available 24/7 and not restricted by a print publication – but SoGlos.com is.

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