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New Media Companies

Meanwhile the entrepreneurs behind more ambitious efforts, including Backfence, New West and Village Soup, are recalibrating old-media company models. For them, success will mean harnessing citizen and advertising contributions to profitable online revenue models. And syndicators, such as Backfence, are in a race to conquer territory ahead of their competitors. More than anything, marketing is critical not only to secure advertisers, but also contributors.

“It’s very grassroots. ... There are not a lot of places for us to advertise ourselves. We’ve got to be out at community events, setting up tables, [speaking to] Little League teams. It doesn’t take a lot of people to do it, but you’ve got to do it,” said Backfence‘s Mark Potts.

In the world of citizen journalism, there is no build-it-they-will-come paradigm. Getting people to write actual stories in New West‘s citizen content section “has been more difficult than we anticipated, and that reflects the fact that it’s work,” said founder Jonathan Weber. “There are no magic tricks there. There’s a lot of legwork involved, you have to talk to people, they have to know you.”

As challenging is getting advertisers to embrace new online models. “The real long-term need is for businesses such as restaurateurs to decide it is worth the extra 15 minutes a day to put that daily special online, and to get more businesses to participate in the sharing of inventories in community databases” so site users can comparison-shop on the site, said Village Soup founder Richard Anderson. It’s that shopping component that Village Soup is trying to monetize. “Either we’re geniuses and ahead of the world or really stupid,” Anderson said.

Adds New West‘s Weber, “A lot of people are all jazzed up about self-serve advertising models,” but he cautions that advertisers are relatively unsophisticated and not eager to try out new things that are even slightly complicated. “They’re not going to go in there and figure it out.”

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