After years of trying to conquer the earth, big media companies are starting to look at the “untapped” hyperlocal market to save their empires. Just yesterday, Business Insider reported that AOL will expand its existing Patch hyperlocal network from the previously planned 30 to “hundreds” in 2010.
AOL isn’t the first big box to move into mom-and-pop territory. The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times run hyperlocal news sites, and national news startup Politico is branching beyond Capitol Hill into Washington’s other hoods. Good for them, and good for the neighborhoods they’ll serve.
(Full disclosure: I spoke with Patch’s editorial director last month about the network’s expansion into my area. He couldn’t give me a job for reasons unrelated to business, but he did offer to take me around the company’s New York offices. Gee, thanks.)
But is big media’s venture into the neighborhood good for existing hyperlocal news sites? I’m leaning towards yes. Here’s why.
First, it creates paid job opportunities for hyperlocalists. In the case of Patch, the editors in charge of individual sites will receive a salary — don’t know how much, but a work-from-home staff job beats entrepreneurial burnout any day of the week. I only hope these editors and other content contributors receive a fair wage for their work.
Second, it has the potential to establish a profitable hyperlocal business model that others (read: me) can rip off. AOL has an army of MBAs crunching numbers to make this work. Let them sort it out and prove to sponsors that online hyperlocal news has value. I’m not too proud to surf in their wake.
Third, competition is good for business. Sure, big boxes like AOL have the sales staff to generate revenue and support editorial operations. But sponsors are always looking for an alternative, one that makes the same personal connections that fuel mom-and-pop businesses. And it doesn’t hurt to offer lower (but not too low) advertising rates and social networking opportunities.
If big media calls with a buyout check or job offer in hand, take it. And if they don’t, bury them.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user six steps.