Alt weeklies have certainly taken a hit from city guides (and especially from classified sites such has Craigslist). There has been a great deal of consolidation in the space. Yet the biggest consolidator, Phoenix-based Village Voice Media, with 14 local city titles, says it had weathered the storm and successfully branched out to the Internet and now, mobile.
In fact, VVM says it remains No. 1 at the local level in several key alt weekly “lifestyle” verticals (i.e., events, music, dining). And it has excellent positioning in the major metro markets that it serves.
“We’ve always been there,” notes COO Scott Tobias. “No one holds a candle to us as a local lifestyle reference.” He notes that the company had 750 million page views in 2010, and will have 1 billion in 2011. Online, the chain reports that its various publications and vertical sites attract 15 million unique visitors per month.
VVM also has a very broad outreach among local advertisers, typically selling ads to 5,600 unique advertisers per week. More than 44,000 local merchants are on the customer list.
The company has a “very targeted media approach,” notes Tobias. It is able to offer local advertisers various print options, as well as 13 local digital channels, including banner, mobile, mobile apps, e-mail and SMS text. New products are also being added, such as Daily Deals, which are currently available in nine markets and will eventually be in all 14. The deals platform was initially offered via a vendor but is now largely an in-house product.
Deals are an ideal medium because they leverage the company’s strength in e-mail addresses. There are roughly 900,000 e-mail addresses in the company’s database receiving lifestyle newsletters, etc. That number is expected to double in 2011 as the company begins to market outside its 14 core markets via centrally located telemarketers, possibly leading to some regional and national activity as well. “E-mail has always been a big part of our business,” says Tobias.
Mobile has also become increasingly important to VVM, especially on the user side. The company went from 900,000 mobile page views at the beginning of 2010 to 4 million page views at the end of the year. Much of that usage is being driven by social media, says Tobias.
Dedicated apps are also driving usage. Tobias notes that VVM has “mother apps” in each market. The apps are driven by event listings, which inspire a lot of social media traffic on Facebook and Twitter, he says. “You won’t read the cover story on your phone” but will refer to listings and other content, he says.