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Why a tech news site is creating a paper magazine for SXSW

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Why a tech news site is creating a paper magazine for SXSW

Jessica Weiss | February 28, 2014

When a digital journalist who founded a technology news site creates a new product for an innovation conference, you might expect it to come in app form.

But Laura Lorek, founder of two-year-old regional tech news site SiliconHillsNews.com, is creating a print magazine for the South by Southwest Interactive conference next month in Austin, Texas.

The magazine will highlight technology resources and entrepreneurs in Central Texas. To fund it, Lorek ran a Kickstarter campaign, which brought in US$9,300, surpassing Lorek's fundraising goal by more than US$2,000.

Lorek founded the site in 2011, after winning a $12,000 New Media for Women Entrepreneurs grant, sponsored by the McCormick Foundation and administered by J-Lab. The site, which for the past two years made a profit, also raises money from sponsorships and advertising.

IJNet recently caught up with Lorek to discuss the upcoming paper magazine, running a digital magazine and lessons on crowdfunding from a successful campaign.

IJNet: Why a print product for SXSW?

Laura Lorek: For two years, Silicon Hills News has covered SXSW. Last year, at a session on startups, I saw a magazine and I thought it was a great idea. TheDailyDot.com - the [Austin-based] news site covering the Internet - also did a newspaper last year. They handed it out every evening. I remember thinking how cool that was. It's basically nostalgia for a print product.

What has happened is there is little paper marketing at SXSW. The pendulum has swung from the old days when the gift tote bags were so full of paper that attendees complained and the recycling bins overflowed with marketing materials.... So now few companies hand out paper. That's where I saw an opportunity to put something physical into their hands, especially local people who will bring it home or back to the office and share the magazine with others. That will then drive traffic to the website. Eventually, I would like to make a monthly digital magazine available in PDF form on our website and do paper magazines periodically for special events.

IJNet: How does this fit into your business model?

LL: Our business model is made up of advertising/sponsorships, events, specialty publications and membership donations. This fits into the specialty publication and membership niches. The magazine provides great marketing for our site as well as spreading the word about Austin and San Antonio technology startups and resources. I found out how much it would cost per issue and how much I would have to pay for photographs and stories. That’s where I came up with the US$7,345 figure for the Kickstarter campaign. But it looks like it will bring in about US$4,000 above the costs involved in printing and publishing the magazine so it is profitable. (We sold US$2,000 of ads to businesses that didn’t want to go through the Kickstarter project but wanted us to invoice them directly.)

IJNet: Where do your ad sales come from?

LL: Most of our ads come from local sources, but we're making a big push this year to land some bigger sponsors like PayPal, Dell, Microsoft BizSpark, Google for Entrepreneurs, IBM, AT&T and GM. We will run any ad that makes sense for our readership. We will not run casino ads or anything illegal. For the magazine, ads came in from California and New York and Florida as well as Austin and San Antonio. I've had a really easy time selling for the print magazine with the Kickstarter campaign.

IJNet: What are your tips for people interested in crowdfunding their own news site?

LL: Network with people who have done a successful project as well as those that failed. You can learn from their experiences.

Do participate in the community and contribute to other projects.

Pick your platform carefully. Kickstarter is well established. So is IndieGoGo. Use a site that already has a large number of engaged members.

Use social media and reach out to influencers in your network who can spread your message far and wide.

Do make the best video you can afford. Our video isn’t great. It wasn’t created for our Kickstarter project. If I were to do it over, I would invest some money into creating a great video targeted at our project.

Set up a variety of pledge levels from $1 up to thousands of dollars. Provide great perks. (Kickstarter requires those perks be something created out of the project.)

Do send email to everyone. I sent out 100 emails everyday for the first week of the project. And I got pledges every day. Then one day I decided not to send out a single email. I didn’t get a single pledge. Even though I plastered it on Twitter and Facebook. So the personal email targeted to individuals in your network goes along way. I tapped my LinkedIn contacts. Do share it on social media and encourage people to retweet on Twitter and repost on Facebook. You never know who might pledge.

Don’t launch the project and then sit back. Don’t set your project goal too high. Don’t make your project last a long time. Aim for 30 days. Don’t forget to thank your backers.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Sean Winters under a Creative Commons license.

Jessica Weiss is a Buenos Aires-based freelancer.

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