Village Voice Media Jump-Starting Online Efforts

The conventional wisdom is that alternative weeklies have their best days behind them.  But that’s clearly not the position of Village Voice Media, which owns 15 titles reaching about one-quarter of the 7.6 million alt weekly readers in the U.S.

President and COO Scott Tobias notes that VVM has aggressively moved online in the past two-and-a-half years. Online currently represents 20 percent of the company’s revenues. Title revenues are complemented by revenues from national features (BackPage.com, which is claimed as the largest classified site after Craigslist, and Likeme, a rating and review site) and networks (Voice Local Network and Ruxton Media Network, the latter of which will soon be rebranded).

At the local level, the company’s especially zeroed in on breaking out VVM’s vertical strengths, particularly in restaurants, music, arts and calendars. “We are the No. 1 in music page views in all of our markets,” says Tobias. “We’re No. 1 or 2 in food.”

Unlike daily newspapers, “we do just a few things and we do them very well,” he says. Everything is tailored around the core 18- to 34-year-old demographic. Tobias adds that vertical strengths should pick up as new widgets are applied that push traffic directly to the individual verticals.

Tobias also likes the company’s chances in transitioning its traditional local advertisers to the Web. More than 12,000 advertisers have participated with the local titles over time, and local online revenues were up 90 percent over the past three years. Local, in fact, represents 85 percent of the company’s revenues, led by such categories as small mom-and-pop boutiques, clothing, bicycles, furniture, cellular and general retail. “We’ll help [SMBs] build traffic,” he says.

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