Print trumps digital for ultra local news says founder of growing Bristol mag publisher

Print offers the best way for journalists to make money hyperlocal titles, according to the founder of a Bristol-based local magazine group.

The Voice series hand distributes 90,000 copies a month across parts of Bristol and it has just launched its tenth edition. The business was launched four years ago by former Bristol Post assistant editor Richard Coulter and former Post advertising manager Emma Cooper.

The pair publish four editions of The Voice themselves and the rest are run as franchises.

Coulter said The Voice series employs 16 people mainly on a part-time basis.

He said: “It is a shame there is so much emphasis on digital all the time when it comes to ultra local publishers when print is what is working. We never get asked about online advertising.”

The Voice titles are hand-delivered and offer a 50/50 split between advertising and editorial, with all editorial content written by journalists.

Coulter said: “Our mission is to deliver a high quality, informative and relevant news service for distinct communities, typically with 10-15,000 residents.

“We do have an online presence but our experience is that for a sustainable business model, local print advertising still has the most potential. In years to come, who knows there may be a different way of doing it and we will be well placed to respond but we are not seeing any slowdown … if anything, it’s the opposite.

“The key for us is that our magazines are free and they are hand delivered to every household.

“Across the country there are successful hyperlocal magazines but in the mad rush to work out the digital conundrum, print remains profitable.”

Coulter said he had attended the community journalism conference in Cardiff last year and while impressed by some of the innovation, was dismayed that the emphasis was almost entirely on digital when the evidence from delegates was that there is still little revenue online for news.

He said that the conference’s 35 recommendations for the future of hyperlocal news did not contain one to suggest that print may be an answer.

He said: “The last ten years have not been easy for journalists but we are trying to prove that, in the hyperlocal sector, journalists can make a living while working in the career of their choice.

“Our model would allow a journalist to dip a toe in the water while having a portfolio of jobs or work on the magazines exclusively.

“I do not say that our model is the only one, but journalists need to get real about digital and if there is no revenue, then it is not a realistic business proposition.”

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