Brownstoner blog founders in Philly

The Philadelphia version of Brownstoner.com has called it quits. The popular blog about real estate, preservation and urban ecology was an immediate success when it launched in April, garnering “Best of” awards and about 200,000 page views a month. Not bad for the first six months in a new town.

But it never became financially stable, so the founder cut bait on his $75,000 investment.

The modus operandi was “if you build it, they will come.” And it worked for readers, but not advertisers. A skeletal staff and no physical office space meant overhead costs were minimal, but there was no sales staff. Advertisers were expected to knock on their door.

That model worked for founder Jonathan Butler in Brooklyn, where the original Brownstoner website gets about 2 million page views a month and is sustained by local developer and real estate agent ads.

Butler said national organizations such as AOL (creator of Patch.com) have more resources to compete in neighborhood news reporting.

“If you’re Patch, if you only have 200K readers in Philly that’s OK because you’ve got 100K in another town and 200K in another town and you can sell national advertising against that,” said Butler. “In our case, to actually find local advertising in every market is not a scalable business.”

Butler said the blogging business is not as developed in Philadelphia as it is in New York, with major blogs sustaining one another with mutual hyperlinks. 

Local blogs with high ambitions cost money, and most cannot sustain themselves. Rick Edmonds, a reporter who covers buisness and media for Poynter.com, said successful websites need to find outside revenue.

“They may get some support from foundations, a membership contribution like NPR, some advertising and perhaps an involvement in events or related businesses,” said Edmonds. “Because it takes a revenue stream with several different things to pay the bills, especially if you’ve got some ambition and are paying contributors.”

Edmonds pointed to regional news blogs such as West Seattle Blog and Pegasus News in Dallas, which have forged a sustainable business model from local advertising.

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