John Garrett runs a local newspaper chain “that’s actually making good money,” reports Christopher Helman in Forbes (1/2/13). John’s publishes “13 hyper-local editions of Community Impact Newspaper … to 855,000 homes in the Austin, Houston and Dallas areas.” His model is simply “to build a true community paper” that is “mailed to every single home in the area and charge nothing for it.” As John explains: “It’s ‘push’ technology called the US Postal Service.” Local news, he says, is “best monetized via print. For mom-and-pop businesses, there’s just not many other ways to get exposure to the community.” Richard Hunter, a local restaurant owner, agrees.
“We tried everything, from Google Ads to Groupon, but this is the most effective,” says Richard. “We get the biggest impact reaching out to people in a 2-10-mile radius of our restaurant.” The newspaper does have a website, but the problem, according to John, is that getting critical mass requires posting “content with broad national or international appeal, which would take his new mission in an entirely different direction.” Indeed, his epiphany occurred after noticing, in 2005, that “no local publication was covering the construction of a huge toll road.” He’s since build that idea into a publishing empire with more than twice the circulation of either the Houston Chronicle or Dallas Morning News.
“It doesn’t matter who you talk to,” says John, “everybody is interested in roads and taxes.” So, he recruited his former 8th grade journalism teacher as editor, and assembled a bare-bones staff.” Typical stories include “efforts to plant new trees to replace those lost to last year’s drought, the threat of decrepit upstream dams to the Houston water supply, the new restaurant or Walmart up the road.” About half the paper’s content is “ads and coupons,” and each 40-page issue “brings in roughly $2.50 in ad revenue per copy printed.” John doesn’t rule out a greater online focus in the future, but for now he says he’s “a fan of going against the grain.”