Village Voice Media: Jumpstarting Online Efforts

The conventional wisdom is that alternative weeklies have their best days behind them. But that’s clearly not the position of Village Voice Media, which owns 15 titles reaching about ¼ of the 7.6 million alt weekly readers in the U.S.

President and COO Scott Tobias notes that VVM has aggressively moved online in the last 2.5 years. Online currently represents 20 percent of the company’s revenue. Title revenue is complemented by revenue from national features (BackPage,com, which is claimed as the largest classifieds site after CraigsList, and Likeme, a ratings and review site) and networks (Voice Local Network and Ruxton Media, which is on the slate to be rebranded).

At the local level, the company’s especially zeroed in on breaking out VVM’s vertical strengths, particularly in restaurants, music, arts and calendars. “We are the number one in music page views in all of our markets,” says Tobias. “We’re number 1 or 2 in food.”

Unlike daily newspapers, “we do just a few things and we do them very well,” he says. Everything is tailored around the core 18-34 year old demographic. Tobias adds that vertical strengths should pick up as new widgets are applied that direct traffic directly to the individual verticals.

Tobias also likes the company’s chances in transitioning its traditional local advertisers to the Web. More than 12,000 advertisers have participated with the local titles over time, and local online revenue has been up 90 percent in the past three years. Local, in fact, represents 85 percent of the company’s revenue, lead by such categories as small mom and pop boutiques, clothing, bicycles, furniture, cellular and general retail. “We’ll help (SMBs) build traffic,” he says.