Believe it or not, if you run a hyperlocal website, you are, in some ways, better-positioned than companies like The NY Times.
The Times announced today it is erecting a paywall that will require frequent viewers of their site to shell out money for unlimited access. Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing executes a nimble takedown of the whole idea today. One point jumped out at me:
Yes, I was going to hate this paywall no matter what the NYT did. News is a commodity: as a prolific linker, I have lots of choice about where I link to my news and the site that make my readers shout at me about a nondeterministic paywall that unpredictably swats them away isn’t going to get those links. Leave out the hard news and you’ve got opinion, and there’s no shortage of free opinion online. Some of it is pretty good (and some of what the Times publishes as opinion is pretty bad). (Emphasis mine.)
The editors at the Times would squawk about that point, but Doctorow is right. No matter how good The NY Times is, for most of its content, there are plenty of other places to go. And even for enterprise pieces, the very popularity of the Times ensures that facts it reports will soon spread everywhere.
Compare that with your hyperlocal site. The whole point of hyperlocal, done right, is that you’re covering stuff people can’t get anywhere else. Or you’re covering it better, in creative ways. You’ve carved out a niche that delivers exclusive value to readers. And if you haven’t, you need to think about how you can tweak your coverage to do it.
My own hyperlocal sports site is a case in point. The local newspaper covers high school sports, but it comes out weekly, and it has limited space. Nobody else is offering daily (sometimes-live) coverage of almost every sporting event in town. If people want it, they know there’s just one place to find it.
By building that exclusivity of coverage, you make yourself valuable to readers first. Then to advertisers. You become a part of the community that people rely on, and your product is just about as far from a commodity as it can be. Yes, it’s a much smaller scale than The NY Times, but your content is probably more valuable to your readers than the TImes’ content is to 90% of its subscribers.