Stagnito [pictured] became CEO of St. Johnsbury, Vermont-based Moose River Media, a
b-to-b publisher serving the professional lawn and landscape, tree
care, light construction, forestry and agricultural industries in
December 2007 (the official first month of the recession). While Moose
River is not a startup, Stagnito and his team are reinventing the
approach for the long-time traditional trade publisher.

remains the dominant revenue stream although e-media is growing quickly.
Moose River’s flagship magazine is Turf, a national publication with
four regional editions and 74,000 circulation. In 2010 the publisher
acquired American Nurseryman, which straddles the line between the green
and agriculture industries.

While Moose River saw overall revenue
growth of 2 percent in 2010, it also generated bottom line growth of
about 38 percent, according to Stagnito. “You would think that’s due to
cost-cutting and while we employed the usual cost containment measures,
we improved quality at the same time,” says Stagnito. “We had a net
decrease in people and expenses, but we improved our employees and our
experience levels.”

While the company had some headcount reduction
in 2010, it also brought back a publisher, three salespeople, a vice
president of audience development and an editorial director. In 2007, 99
percent of Moose River employees worked out of St Johnsbury. Today, 33
percent of the employee base works in cities such as Chicago, Cleveland
and Pittsburgh. “That’s where we’ve added outside salespeople and
editors to get into the marketplace,” says Stagnito. “We had to do it
the old fashioned way, but it has already enabled us to convert some
previously shut-out business.”

Turf, which is a tabloid, reduced
trim size to an oversized standard but also added heavier paper and
perfect bounding. “The net effect was our audience thought we made a
substantial investment in the property while at the same time we saved
thousands of dollars,” says Stagnito.

Making Social Media a Real Business

many independent publishers continue to struggle to reach that “sweet
spot” of digital media accounting for 8-15 percent of total revenue,
Moose River generates 20 percent of its revenue from online, driven in
large part by monetizing online communities of a size not often seen
(nor sustained) in b-to-b.

The effort was driven in large part by
Sean Adams, Moose River’s vice president of online communities. The
social media effort is dominated by two sites: LawnSite.com and PlowSite.com.
LawnSite, which was launched in 1999, today boasts 113,000 members,
with nearly four million page views and almost 30,000 unique visitors
each month, according to Google Analytics. “You can do a lot of things
with traffic like that,” says Stagnito.

The communities are
primarily monetized through advertising. Sponsors pay on a monthly basis
for specific key words. The sites feature a keyword notification
system—similar to Google alerts—through which advertisers can buy a
word, brand or term. “Every time that brand or term is mentioned, you
get an alert,” says Stagnito.

However, going forward, Moose River
is developing revenue streams around social media that go beyond
straight advertising, including member benefit programs such as
group-buys for low cost health care coverage. The publisher is also
developing an initiative called GreenThink that offers market research
services to suppliers by asking members to provide input on vendor

“We have all these members who are not shy about the good and
bad of their businesses,” says Stagnito.

Moose River has launched additional communities such as SportsFieldSite.com and NurserymanSite.com. Maintaining the communities comes down to close moderation—not to mention finding a market that fits, according to Stagnito.

launched a couple communities that failed, one size doesn’t fit all,”
he says. “There is a fine line between moderation and censorship and we
moderate the communities 24/7.”

Next Up: Mobile Products, Monetizing Audience

is the next big initiative. “The Green industry is highly mobile and
people are in their trucks working from PDAs,” says Stagnito. “Our
mobile traffic is about 5 percent of the total site visitors to
LawnSite.com and as that grows, we’ll monetize it as well.”

River is also looking to monetize LawnSite.com’s e-mail database through
direct blasts and digital editions that reach more than 90,000 people
who do not subscribe to the magazines.

“We consolidated the list
database so we’d have greater intelligence on who these people are,”
says Stagnito. “While we don’t think we can provide that data to our
advertisers due to privacy concerns, we can tailor our publications to
be more useful. We’re gathering that data now and will process it and
put it into play this year."