The Current newspapers, which cover all manner of community happenings over a wide swath of the District, have fashioned the best media business model around. They make an indispensable weekly print product, distribute it like mad, and spend a pittance on their Web presence. They post their content in PDFs but don’t bother with much else: no blogs, no videos, no mold-breaking interactive features, and no millions of dollars spent on traffic-enhancing upgrades. Their entire Web strategy says, in essence, “Go find the paper.”
The result? “We’ve never had a layoff,” says Publisher Davis Kennedy.
Basically everyone else. Especially the various publications that are seeking to advise people from 18 to 35 years old how to spend their evenings. That group includes but is not limited to:
• The Washington City Paper, a weekly publication that has a Web site.
• The Onion, a weekly publication that has a Web site and a new online venture (decider.com) “devoted to arts & entertainment, food, and nightlife in your hometown.”
• OnTap, a monthly publication that has a Web site and hosts a “Hottest Bartender” competition.
• Washingtonian, a monthly publication that has a Web site and an “After Hours” blog.
• The Washington Post, a daily publication that has a Web site and funnels untold hundreds of thousands of dollars each year into its “Going Out Guide” and Weekend section.
• Express, a daily publication of the Washington Post Co. that has a Web site called Express Night Out.
• Wonkette, a publication that is nothing but a Web site with a page titled Wonkabout, “your guide to all that is fun and interesting and weird and tasty and boozey in Washington D.C.”
• Local television news sites, including NBCWashington’s “Around Town” page and WUSA-TV’s Metromix site, which bills itself as “your one-stop local entertainment guide on where to go and what to do in DC, from the hottest restaurants and bars, to the latest in events, music, movies, style, and TV.”
• There are unquestionably a few contenders that I have missed here. I apologize to you in advance.
That’s a lot of competition in the race to better serve the young urban professional in search of a better beer, a better glass of wine, a more expertly produced theatrical production. And that’s a good thing, the competition. Because if there’s one area in which you want a lot of competition, a lot of creative tension, a lot of seed money and bold experimenting, it’s in the pursuit of serving leisure-oriented information to young, well-off professionals in the urban environment. They deserve it, they need it. If they don’t get it on your site, they’ll find it somewhere else. They’ll deliver their hits to a competitor—and it could even be a start-up. Yup, they’ll flock to the site that has good advice about arts and entertainment options searchable by neighborhood, by price range, by proximity to Metro stops, by proximity to ATMs that have low or no service charges, by sidewalk type (concrete or brick, that is).
That hot new site will get $10 per ad per week from local bars and restaurants. And that’s truly a second-best business model.