Ads on the Rapidian?
"Maybe hyperlocal advertising would actually benefit our small businesses and residents."
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Other articles by the same author
Other articles by this author
There is no question that things are really hopping at the Rapidian. Monthly visitor numbers are up a whopping 78% compared to 3 months ago. Now nearly 15,000 visits are being made each month to check out what's happening. Hundreds are signed up to be reporters. Rapidian stories and authors are being quoted and referenced by mainstream media.
By most accounts, this is success. And within this moment, I delightfully agree. But beyond today, I can’t forget one very critical element: The Rapidian was provided with enough seed funding to actually experiment. Our initial funders gave us the gift of time and the ability to test, revise and test again. We had the funds to create a strong web structure and the fortunate ability to launch with real substance. Oh, to think we could just continue this way.
But seed funding comes with serious obligations - to create something beyond the experiment that serves community and can actually be sustained. Establish something that can be viable once the seed money is gone. And as I ponder the options, I tend to come up with more questions than answers. Most tend to center on how generating income would (or would not) affect the substance of what has been created.
Let’s start with advertising. Are ads ok on The Rapidian? Most I talk to are less than enamored with the idea. We have become very used to our “clean look:" No pop up ads or busy sidebars; community information without the commercial pitch. Would visitors feel the same about The Rapidian if we rented their 30,000 eyeballs to Sprint or 1-800-Flowers? Should we accept only local ads? Would it be more acceptable if we were restrictive? Maybe hyperlocal advertising would actually benefit our small businesses and residents.
Then there is the possibility of really small advertising, like classified ads. Would a local marketplace section of used cars, garage sales and apartments for rent hold enough appeal against the free services of Craigslist or the reach of MLive?
I often get asked why we don’t just fund the Rapidian with more grants. After all, it has worked so far. Unfortunately, I find grants are the most misunderstood funding stream in the nonprofit realm. There would be no Rapidian without grants from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. But rarely do grantors fund ongoing operations, at least in not the media and technology world. They often fund the beginning in hopes of seeding something that will eventually survive and flourish on its own.
Should we simply ask people to provide support? Would it work? Would enough folks buy the milk when they can log on to the cow for free? It has worked for public broadcasting for years, but I can find few examples on online journalism that are covering expenses this way. But it could be possible. This is West Michigan, after all.
While I would love to spend the next year simply enjoying the continued growth and development of The Rapidian as a community-powered, local information platform, it is more likely that I’ll be looking 2 or 3 years ahead to find the ideal combination of activities that will keep The Rapidian both valued and sustainable well into the future. Hopefully the methods will be as creative as they are effective. As is the Rapidian way, ideas and input are welcome (and needed). It’s taken a community to get us this far and it’s for certain that’s what it will take for us to continue. Please let us know what you think. Bake Sale anyone?
Publisher of The Rapidian and Executive Director of Community Media Center (parent organization of The Rapidian). Over 20 years in noncommercial media and technology. Proud wife, mom, part time artist, and general busybody. Loves local history, travel, flea markets and all things "foodie".
Reports on: General Rapidian news, op-eds, social media & communications strategy, community development, arts