Next American City, a non-profit media organization focused on urban affairs, is refreshing its strategy. The publisher’s quarterly print publication folded in late 2011, with the goal to focus resources on a more sustainable product: its website.

“While the magazine doubled its subscription numbers from 2008 to 2011, we were still doing a lot to promote subscriptions to the magazine that was taking time: producing a great site to attract people to the magazine, hosting events to build buzz,” says Diana Lind, executive director and editor-in-chief of Next American City [NAC]. “We realized that instead of doing these things to raise subscriber numbers, we should be doing them just to do them.”

Lind says the struggle to produce a physical magazine as an independent publisher proved to be difficult organizationally, and wasn’t feasible financially. When the print product folded, Next American City had a run of 10,000 copies, with 3,500 paying subscribers. The remaining issues were distributed to pertinent organizations, conferences and universities.

Free of print constraints, NAC is set to relaunch its website on April 16. The refreshed site will include both original and curated content. Working towards a goal of 100 partners, Lind counts 22 news sites already on board to share content.
The daily content on will be free to users.

Sustainable Monetization

In addition to its revamped site, NAC is launching Forefront, a weekly editorial platform featuring a single long-form story for online viewing as well as download on the iPad, Kindle and other mobile devices. Yearly Forefront digital subscriptions are priced at $17.88, with single issues available for $1.99.

Forefront’s debut article, written by Josh Stephens, is sponsored by the American Planning Association and will be available without charge to readers. NAC will co-host an event with California Planning & Development Report during the American Planning Association’s annual conference in April to get word out about the new digital offering.

Another NAC event, held at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Relations, will take place in late May. Lind says 44 percent of NAC’s readers are on the East Coast, and this event gives the publication a chance to reconnect with faithful readers, and present its products and purpose to potential ones.

Lind identifies the opportunity for NAC carved out by other local content like recently launched Atlantic Cities, as well as new devices, “A lot of the pieces don’t get into the complexity of these issues,” she adds. “The Kindle and the iPad are vehicles for paid content; people are more likely to feel comfortable purchasing a story in iTunes or a subscription on a device rather than a website.”

The all-digital approach touts more benefits for NAC, “This weekly long-form model would allow us to prioritize illustration, design and reporting, as well as provide earned revenue that would be financially sustainable for a non-profit media outlet,” says Lind, “There is also increasing benefits with greater scale. If we ended up adding new subscribers as a print magazine, we’d be saddled with additional costs, like printing the copies and mailing them out. With the subscribers we get with the Forefront content, there’s no additional costs to us, really.”

The new site and e-singles are being promoted through NAC’s weekly newsletter, which is sent to 23,000 subscribers, as well as through brochures. NAC is also offering an institutional subscription, where approved organizations, conferences and schools can pay one fee for all-member access.

Next up is social media integration, in addition to a larger marketing push, once the digital initiatives are live. More Philadelphia-focused content is planned for this summer.