Gay papers retool online
by Matthew S. Bajko
As their printed products shrink, gay publications are retooling how they use their Web sites to better serve readers as well as advertisers.
Most gay news outlets have been on the Web for years and expect readership online will continue to grow. But they are changing how they use their Web sites to deliver the news and make more money.
Instead of merely posting downloadable editions, monthly magazine's like San Jose's OutNow and Sacramento's twice monthly newspaper Outword are now uploading articles to their Web sites that can then be linked to by bloggers, news aggregator sites, and online search tools.
"The question is how to do that and support that without creating another job and revenue to support that," said Fred Palmer, Outword's publisher.
Not having a web presence can hurt a gay paper's advertising, said LGBT marketing expert Bob Witeck, as many companies want to reach readers both online and in the hard copy. Not only do online ads bring in another source of revenue, but also many advertisers are basing where to spend their money partly on a publication's Web site, he said.
"If you didn't have a sophisticated presence online, it would raise the question if you are competitive in advertisers' minds," said Witeck.
The Bay Area Reporter's Web site ebar.com, now just over three years old, is being redesigned this year. Along with the printed edition's articles, many stories with a national focus are posted solely online, and each Monday brings a new online-only Political Notes column. Breaking news stories are also posted online.
Advertisers can also bundle their ad buys, purchasing space not only in the printed paper but banner ads online.
And despite earlier fears of the Web site decreasing readership of the paper, it has not cannibalized readership of the printed edition. To the contrary, general manager Michael Yamashita said it is growing somewhat as more papers are now being distributed outside the Castro to target readers who no longer live in the gayborhood.
By making use of the city's new mounted news racks, the B.A.R. has made inroads into Union Square, South of Market, and Fisherman's Wharf. Each week, only between 8 percent to 10 percent of the 30,000 printed papers remains on newsstands.
"We now have a dozen locations in Union Square," said Yamashita. "We don't have to decrease the amount of our print run. The papers are being picked up but in more locations outside the Castro."
The B.A.R. is also one of several local gay papers that have teamed up with Edge Publications to create online Web sites called Edge. Now in 16 markets, the Edge Web sites pay local gay news outlets to carry their articles and share in advertising revenue.
"We hope that benefits them. It benefits us," said Bay Windows co-publisher Sue O'Connell, whose paper also teamed up with Edge and serves as executive vice president of sales for the Web sites. "It is like a national television network with local affiliates."
At her paper, which is now 26 years old, the paper is always looking for new ways to survive economically, said O'Connell.
"We view the Baywindows.com site as a way to make incremental revenue," she said.
With her competitors closing up shop, she and her co-publisher Jeff Coakley, launched a new publication called Out at Night that covers New England gay nightlife and brings in money from bar, club, and restaurant ads. And they are also using e-mail as another way to increase ad buys.
"E-blasts are a great tool. I think they don't bother the person who receives them and are a great value for the advertiser," said O'Connell. "At this point, online is where you want to put your resources."
O'Connell said she can see the day when gay papers in certain markets cease printing and publish solely online.
"We just need to be open-minded about that," she said.
In fact, the Divine Providence newspaper in Providence, Rhode Island, sent an e-mail January 16 saying it was now only publishing online except for special issues such as Pride.
San Francisco resident Cheryl Mazak decided that was the best route to take when she and three friends launched the online lesbian magazine http://www.GoGetYourGirlOn.com last September. Mazak, an out lesbian, serves as the site's creative and artistic director.
A photographer and visual artist, Mazak said she had a wealth of material from shooting various celebrities and leaders within the lesbian community but nowhere to publish it.
"It started off with me needing an outlet for this creatively," said Mazak. "It became over time a really great source for news and entertainment and really sensitive interviews to people."
Having taught herself how to manage the Web site, Mazak is now trying to branch out and bring on other writers from around the world. This month she and her co-founders, who have worked on the site for free, began trying to attract advertising.
"We are just gearing up and finalizing our business plan," said Mazak, noting the company became a legal entity on December 23.
She doesn't see her venture as being in competition with other lesbian magazines, like Curve and Sacramento-based Jane and Jane, but working in tandem.
"I love Curve magazine. I think that this is going to be how people find their news immediately, but I think there is something very soothing and relaxing having that tactile magazine and smell of the paper," said Mazak. "That is something people love. They love to flip through the pages. There is something lost in that experience when you are online. I think people like to have access to both."
Many publishers are not ready to make the jump to only being on the Internet. The B.A.R's Yamashita does not foresee the day when the paper would transition to being only available online.
"I don't think we are in that position right now," said Yamashita. "I think there are a lot of other possibilities to explore before you stop printing the paper."
It will be up to readers to decide if they want the B.A.R. to remain a printed product or solely become an online news source, he said.
"It depends on the gay community itself and if they feel we are providing a valuable need, which I think we are," he said.
Palmer agreed that there would always be a need for the gay press.
"There is some feeling out there of do we even need gay newspapers anymore? I disagree. We will always need a voice of our own and an outlet of our own," he said.
Those gay media companies that are run well will survive, said O'Connell.
"Those that focus on what we do best, which is covering our community, and focus their budgets on their editorial staff and are not afraid of the Internet, that are able to embrace and be creative and smart on how the Web can enhance the paper, will survive this economy," she said.