Response to comments by Paul Court about The Lichfield Blog

In response to Paul Court’s comments about The Lichfield Blog.

“Your clunky ad package”

Why do you say that? It works nicely for us and none of the many advertisers we’ve had have complained. Far from it in fact.

“which seems designed to share information with advertisers you probably don’t want them to know”

Such as? I have no problem being open with such stats.

“not give them information that might encourage them to become your clients”

They can clearly see the views they’d get. What do you suggest we should be giving them?

“even if you could sell your prime ad spot you’d be making just 60 pounds a week”

Actually, the current revenue potential is £94.92 per week.

“Working back from the 12,000 page views a week claimed that would probably make about 3,000 visits and up to 2,000 uniques.”

Not sure how you reached these figures. Actually in the last four weeks we’ve averaged around 8,000 page views, 4,000 visits and 3,500 uniques.

“Not enough for viability by a long way but you should be making more than you are.”

We’re a not-for-profit with costs amounting to around £100 per year. Two ads for just one month out of 12 will meet those costs.

“Ad rotation would be a quick and easy way to boost the number of sellable page views.”

You clearly haven’t looked closely enough.

“However, as for charging community groups for space on the site – what on earth are you thinking?”

They all get any coverage that they need through articles on the site. If they want to really push something particular, they have a very accessible, low-cost method to do so, whilst simultaneously supporting a fellow community group. The alternative is paying hundreds for an ad in a local paper.

“You are not a blog so why lumber you site with a tag which is off-putting and misleading.”

A quick look into our history will tell you why. Few of our readers seem to have an issue with it because we clearly demonstrate through our actions that we are not a blog in a traditional sense. That’s why two local festivals (one world-renowned) have just chosen us as their media partner. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, our community doesn’t.

“One of the reasons your audience numbers remain low probably misperception of what you are doing.”

Judging by the ABCs of the local paper we actually reach more people than they do in their patch. I wouldn’t call that low.

“lack of a discussion board and a newsletter seem to be basic errors”

Why would we have a forum? That doesn’t suit our aims. We quite clearly have a method for readers to receive articles by e-mail. It’s generated every day by using the RSS feed. I use it myself.

“You can’t have a partnership with your biggest competitor.”

A quick glance at http://www.birminghammail.net/your-communities/staffordshire/lichfield/ will clearly demonstrate just how little we compete with the Birmingham Mail.

“Just because you haven’t been able to generate revenue out of your site doesn’t mean it is worthless so you are wrong to give away its most valuable asset.”

We’ve generated a pretty good amount of revenue out of it, actually. We’re satisfied that what we get in return from BPM is worth the benefit we give them, and there is much more to come from our relationship.

“Judging by you blog post on networks you have a negative view of Local People.”

I’m not keen no, I don’t believe the model is the right one and I think people in those communities largely see through it. By contrast, Guardian Local and STV identify people passionate about their area and give them the tools and training to do an exceptional job, which they do.

“a partnership with Local People would negate the technical inadequacies of your site”

Wow. That’s a big statement. You really think People sites are more technically adequate than TLB? I’d love to know how…

“lack of commercial nous”

You don’t manage several businesses without having some commercial nous. Nor do you (as a tiny volunteer operation) build relationships with the biggest media organisations in the country without a bit of business sense about you. Frankly I find this assumption about our operation very insulting.

“struggle along for another couple of years”

I’m fascinated that you have such an insight into what it’s like for us to run the site. Until now I’d considered it an incredibly fulfilling, exciting adventure that has been touted countless times as a leader of hyperlocals everywhere. It’s certainly hard work but then if we weren’t working hard, we wouldn’t be doing our community justice.

For clarity, here is the full comment from Paul:

Philip, rather than getting sniffy with Alex about her (?) linking policy perhaps you should start to take on board some of the points she is making. Looking at your Lichfield Blog, it epitomises many of the problems she has highlighted. Firstly, in case my later points seem unduly harsh, I would stress that it is an excellent example of what a community site should be in terms of its content. It manages to be firmly rooted in the community without being dry and introspective.

Unfortunately it seems to be woefully undersold. As far as I can see you have no independent advertisers. Your clunky ad package, which seems designed to share information with advertisers you probably don’t want them to know but not give them information that might encourage them to become your clients, suggests that even if you could sell your prime ad spot you’d be making just 60 pounds a week. Working back from the 12,000 page views a week claimed that would probably make about 3,000 visits and up to 2,000 uniques.

Not enough for viability by a long way but you should be making more than you are. Ad rotation would be a quick and easy way to boost the number of sellable page views. However, as for charging community groups for space on the site – what on earth are you thinking? Engagement with these people should be the life-blood of you site and you should not be discouraging them in this way. The unsold ad space on your front page for non-profits is wrong on so many levels.

You also have a branding issue. You are not a blog so why lumber you site with a tag which is off-putting and misleading. Bloggers are negatively perceived by the less web savvy part of the world who will make up the biggest part of your potential audience. One of the reasons your audience numbers remain low probably misperception of what you are doing.

Engagement is also a problem. I appreciate the use of free software maybe a constaint but the lack of a discussion board and a newsletter seem to be basic errors. The site gives more of an impression of you talking to Lichfield rather than you providing a platform to Lichfield to talk to itself. Offering an RSS feed only is likely to alienate further the majority of your visitors who won’t know what an RSS feed is.

It is disheartening, given the quality of the content, that you feel it is a good idea to effectively give it away free to Trinity Mirror. If you are ever going to be viable you have to compete with them for audience and sales. You can’t have a partnership with your biggest competitor. You are capable of highlighting the declining quality of reporting in their titles because of the genuinely local and informed coverage you provide. Trinity must be breathing a huge sigh of relief that you have agreed to provide them with free story origination allowing them to paper over the cracks of their current operation. Just because you haven’t been able to generate revenue out of your site doesn’t mean it is worthless so you are wrong to give away its most valuable asset.

Judging by you blog post on networks you have a negative view of Local People. I presume that because you say you have missed out a couple of networks as ‘I don’t see them as proper grass-roots hyperlocal efforts.’ I can’t see who this could refer to other than Local People yet bizarrely you include the Guardian and STV. You may dislike Local People for their association with the Daily Mail but it is wrong to say that it isn’t a proper grass-roots hyperlocal effort. Like Patch in the States they are employing local editors and the quality and success of their sites is dependent on the quality of that person. Ironically for you, a partnership with Local People would negate the technical inadequacies of your site and your lack of commercial nous allowing you to concentrate on what you are good at.

The alternative seems to me that you struggle along for another couple of years without achieving sustainability and then either give up the ghost or Local People, Patch or another entrant into the market come along and do it better.

3 thoughts on “Response to comments by Paul Court about The Lichfield Blog”

  1. Paul,

    As Phil points out, for me transparency is a corner-stone of the Addiply philosophy.

    In what remains a very, very early market-place as far as local online advertising is concerned, demonstrating clearly what I – the local advertiser – am actually getting for my £10 a week, my 75 pence a month or whatever rate individual publishers opt to select puts us in a very different place to AdWords/AdSense.

    I challenge you or anyone to describe that process as transparent.

    On the basis of on-going commercial relationships between local publishers and local advertisers being based on trust, displaying your numbers openly is – for me – part of that process.

    I’ve long been a fan of Clay Shirky; he has a lovely line about the current media landscape in the right now ‘Nothing works, but everything might…’

    Which is why I think the efforts of Ross, Phil and Co to deliver a new news portal for the people of Lichfield deserves to be given a chance to succeed.

    Best etc

    R

  2. It’s a good job Phil is the diplomatic one of the two of us as I’d have just told him where to shove his analytical insight. I don’t do TLB for the money, never have done, never will. It’s a passion. If it happens to be a commercial success then fab, all power to the people and all that. But if it doesn’t then I’ll just carry on.

    I’ve never wanted The Lichfield Blog to be lumped in with some kind of media movement and I’ve upset a few people and left Phil fighting fires because of that stance at times. But it’s true. The Lichfield Blog is what it is. If you don’t like it, fine, don’t read it. If you do, then lap it up.

    As for the issue of competitors, again, see the history of things. I’ve always said it isn’t a competitor to anyone. It does what it does, it fills a gap (no-one else updates daily about Lichfield online), it has a team of contributors who have changed and evolved with the site, so where is the problem?

    It always amazes me how people seem to know so much about what we do, when most of it is locked in my brain and Phil’s.

  3. Who is Paul Court? Anyone who’s opinion carries any weight? I think some people are trying to build “hyperlocal” into a new media bubble as they see a way to make money from it. I’m only just getting into local blogging, but I see no need to make money from it. It’s simply a way for me to comment on local issues that traditional media doesn’t provide (a letters page in a local rag doesn’t really cut it any more). However, having been an internet users since the early days of 1200 baud modems, Winsock and Mosaic, I’ve seen bubbles come and go.

    As Ross says, the Lichfield Blog is what it is and it is for the team behind it to decide its purpose and future direction, and it should be expected that there will be differences in that vision amongst the team.

    Ultimately, the community will decide whether The Lichfield Blog satisfies it’s needs and whether it evolves in the direction its readers and contributors want. I don’t give any significant weight to the comments of any individual.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *