When Jonathan Weber, former editor-in-chief of The Industry Standard, moved to Missoula, Montana, in 2001, he came up with a big idea—to take the “big story of growth and change” he saw in the Rocky Mountain region and combine that with the fundamental changes taking place in media.
In 2005, he launched NewWest.net—a network of local Web sites for the region—with the intention of launching events and print later. He spent $15,000 building the site and got “about 90 percent of what The Industry Standard Web site did for one one-hundredth of the cost.” Within six to eight months, the Web site had attracted 100,000 monthly unique visitors. Weber attributes this to strong editorial. “Good stories link to good sites,” he says, “It’s a very simple calculus.”
New West was able to leverage that “initial thrust” into an event business, the launch of which attracted more than 300 people and a good amount of sponsor support. “It helped a lot on the advertising side,” he says, “especially with small and medium-size businesses who weren’t really too sold on this online advertising thing to start.”
Currently, events make up 30 percent of the company’s revenue. The Web site makes up 40 to 50 percent, while the remaining 20 to 30 percent is from the print magazine, which launched in April mostly as a brand extension of the online product. The quarterly title was relatively inexpensive to launch, according to Weber, given that New West already had an editorial staff and audience in place.
With its key advertisers being in the real estate, construction, engineering and architecture markets, though, the magazine is off to a slower-than-expected start, and New West is scaling back its frequency from quarterly to bi-annually after two issues. “Part of our model is that we’re not going to lose money on print,” Weber says.
STRENGTHS: Weber built New West into a multiplatform brand by going online first and spent $15,000 initially on the Web site. He says limiting spending and money from venture capital helps the company stay flexible.
WEAKNESSES: After about three years in online and events, New West launched a quarterly print magazine this January. But after its second issue, Weber has decided to scale it back to twice a year and cites target advertising in the struggling real estate, construction, engineering and architectural markets as a major factor.
OPPORTUNITIES: Weber says he’s working on a large-scale initiative to take what New West has learned about making local online publishing into a sustainable business and use that to offer other publishers “revenue-generating services and other types of support.”
THREATS: New West’s core print advertisers and some of its online advertisers are in the real estate, construction and other housing-related markets. The company also faces the ongoing challenge of securing small-to-medium-sized local business advertisers who may not be sold on the value of online just yet.
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