Village Voice Media is branching out into ad sales for sites outside its blog network. The free city weekly publisher has started selling some ad placements on Gothamist’s site this week. In an interview with paidContent Bill Jensen, VVM’s director of New Media, said the publisher is looking for additional partner sites to sell ads for, particularly ones in the music category.
While VVM and Gothamist both offer sharp takes on local news and culture, the deal with Gothamist involves only ad sales; there is no talk of sharing of content at this point. And though both operate news outlets in other cities, this arrangement is limited to Gothamist’s New York site.
VVM also already has widgets on sites like Curbed and Eater. So this is an expansion of its outside sales activity. “Gothamist has a great deal of inventory, a lot of pageviews, and we think we can both increase our revenues by working together,” Jensen said. Given VVM’s range of 14 city papers to support, it doesn’t feel like it has much leeway to experiment. “As opposed to companies in Silicon Valley, where you can build something and figure out how to monetize it later, we can’t. Everything we do has to make money.”
The relationship is a new one for Gothamist as well. The company doesn’t use any ad networks and it sells all of its inventory directly to advertisers and their agencies, said Jake Dobkin, Gothamist’s co-founder and publisher, in an e-mail conversation.
“Because we’re growing at a fast clip (50 percent during past 12 months), some months we find ourselves with extra inventory,” Dobkin said. “Our sales office focuses on national RFPs we can run across our nine U.S. sites, since those are the largest deals. But that work doesn’t leave us with a lot of time to pursue certain local verticals- like bars, restaurants, real estate.”
That’s where VVM comes in. The company has also been doing well over the past few years as the old media company finally caught up to new media after merging with fellow alt weekly publisher New Times Media five years ago.
In an interview with Techcrunch last year, Jensen said VVM was projected to make $20 million in online revenue. So far, Jensen said that VVM’s digital revenue is up 45 percent year-to-date.
“When I was hired four years ago to develop the online strategy and start the transformation into a digital company,” Jensen said. “At that time, we averaged about 15 million pageviews and now it’s 70 million. A lot of it had to do with recognizing what a lot of traditional media companies don’t want to admit: people are mostly coming to our sites from other places, like search and now, Twitter and Facebook.”
Still the challenge is generating revenue from those sudden traffic spurts that come from social media. This month’s minor Facebook meme, 50 Reasons to be Pretty Damn Euphoric You Live In New York City, which was the Village Voice blog Runnin’ Scared’s attempt to provide a balm to worried urbanites during the tense mid-term elections, garnered 65,000 shares on the social network. “We considered doing some ads around it, but this went viral so fast, there was no way to tie a client to it,” Jensen said.
Catching a viral ad is one thing, but Jensen thinks they’ll be able to get some revenue traction for its free Happy Hour app, which has been downloaded 550,000 times since March. Since mobile is now hot with local advertisers, that doesn’t sound like too much trouble. But one other hot online ad category hasn’t appealed yet to Jensen.
“One reason we haven’t gotten in to video, is that no demand from local advertisers we have,” he said. “We have always relied on the small, local business advertisers that metro and regional newspapers have ignored — that’s another reason why we’re doing a lot better than the publishers around us. And those advertisers have never shot video. They’re too small. We were going to do it, we crunched numbers about shooting video for clients, but for the moment, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”