FAQ: Hyperlocal sustainability

The latest in the series of Frequently Asked Questions comes from a UK student, who has questions about hyperlocal blogging.

In the long term, how sustainable is a hyperlocal site economically?

It depends on the business model, the wider market, and the individuals involved in the business.

I don’t think hyperlocal sites follow any particularly consistent model, so it’s difficult to give a answer that can be generalised, given how diverse the business models and markets are.

In the US, for example, ‘hyperlocal’ can refer to a market which in the UK would support a regional newspaper.

Some say that establishing an audience base is the key to long term success. Would you agree with this?

Any business needs a customer base – but that isn’t necessarily the same as an audience.

It may be that the customers are advertisers, or clients of a spinoff consultancy, or training operation. Many hyperlocal blogs are run as a means to an end: a way of increasing the profile and network of the publishers who then make money indirectly through events, training, etc.

So in that sense, the audience base is key – but it need not be a large one; it can be one that is willing to spend money on those related services, or which advertisers will pay a premium to reach.

Also the term ‘audience’ is potentially misleading here. We’re really talking about a network, which is qualitatively different.

Which type of hyperlocal site, in your opinion, offers the most success in terms of finance, readership/coverage and long term lifespan: content sites (local job listings etc.) or news sites?

Given that both types are ‘content’ sites, I’ll assume you mean listings sites versus news sites.

I think most sites try to include a mix, with a particular focus on one part. But I find the attempts at ‘hyperlocal community sites’ by some of the large regional publishers generally soulless – they are basically listings sites with some content to fill the gaps between, and little quality control or sense of serving a community.

Unsurprisingly, some research I was involved in suggested that they have failed to meet their targets in terms of audience.

But I don’t follow all the hyperlocal sites closely enough to have a particularly informed opinion on your questions. Better to look at the research done on hyperlocal publishing, which I’ve bookmarked here.

How helpful are the local authorities in supporting hyperlocal sites (funding, news sources, promoting etc)?

Generally not at all. But then they don’t support local newspapers, so why should they provide funding or promotion for hyperlocals?

As to sources, council press offices are increasingly including hyperlocals in their operations – although some can be snooty, and if the hyperlocal is critically scrutinising what the council does, or providing a platform for dissent, then it doesn’t take much to find an excuse to exclude them.

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