By Sarah Billingsley, Communications Director
Wouldn’t it be nice if life came with a manual?
Well, it can.
Thanks to a number of Alt Weekly publications. Many alternative weeklies produce an annual manual, a comprehensive guide to the city. Most non-local advertisers (and some AWN members too) are unfamiliar with the product.
As part of our continued learning and sharing mantra, we collected annual manual information from publications around the country so we could give AWN members a snapshot of the product offerings. Besides the fact that they are all totally awesome, we learned that each is as unique as the cities they cover.
They offer regional maps, local event listings, dining, and arts and entertainment-oriented edit. These publications can serve as a guide for newcomers to a city as well as a bible for residents to keep handy for weekend planning. Urban Tulsa Weekly’s introduction to their Insider’s Guide to Tulsa says, “Been downtown lately? Do you have a pulse? …If you’re new to town, welcome. This is where you start. If you’re a native and just coming into your own, read on. You’ll be surprised what you don’t know about the hometown and its goings on.”
These are not the typical visitor guides, which may be endorsed by (or produced by) local chambers of commerce or other business interests. Alt weekly annual manuals are different from the standard visitor offerings because they maintain the editorial credibility, edginess, and spunk that defines the industry.
According to our survey, publications producing annual manuals:
Colorado Spring Independent – April – InSider
Hartford Advocate – September – Annual Manual
Boise Weekly – July – Annual Manual
Independent Weekly – September – Annual Manual
Santa Fe Reporter – May – Annual Manual
Rochester City Newspaper – March – Annual Manual
Urban Tulsa Weekly – September – Insider’s Guide to Tulsa
Willamette Week – August – Finder
Pacific Northwest Inlander – August – Annual Manual
Isthmus – August – Annual Manual
All Annual manuals feature editorial written exclusively for the product, and in most cases they have populated listings from other special issues, such as Best of Issues. In Madison, you’ll find a “Test your Madison IQ quiz”. In Raleigh/Durham, a PLACEBOOK, a Facebook look-a-like captures a lot of what Triangle residents love about their area.
“You don’t live in North Carolina so much as you live in The Triangle.” Yes, so very true.
Willamette Week’s Finder, offers a two-page spread called “motion”, a user manual for Portland’s “dauntingly varied” transport. This is just a snapshot of the annual manuals we collected. They are ALL creative, smart, and clever.
One of the best characteristics of all the annual manuals is the outstanding design quality. This is where annual manuals shine. All the books we collected were 100% glossy, either stapled or perfect bound with stunning photography, illustrations and ads that shine as well. It’s a slightly different creative angle to offer new advertisers and existing ones.
Here’s another discovery from our small sample, rates for a majority of these guides were LOWER than the standard weekly display rates. The perfect bound, glossy, beautiful publications can be affordable for advertisers who may be skittish about adding to their ad budget. Several publications, like the Hartford Advocate, offer package deals with other special issues published throughout the year. Willamette Week offers an additional 20% off their FINDER rates to current WW advertisers. One apparent reason for the lower rates is the smaller distribution or circulation numbers attached to these products.
Generally, annual manual deadlines are about a month before the piece hits the streets and they are distributed alongside the issue (if not inserted in the paper) with additional distribution in hotels and visitor centers. Most publications offer an online version (either as a PDF or as an online interactive guide), which enhances the shelf-life of the annual manuals.
If you’ve got an interest in starting an annual manual publication or just want to know more about ’em, here are a half-dozen AWN contacts who can answer questions and provide additional links to online/digital versions of these annual guides. Also, if you publish one as well and want to share information about your annual manual, please don’t hesitate to send to us. We know there are more of you out there!
Boise Weekly, Sally Freeman, Publisher/CFO
208-344-2055 ext 3004, firstname.lastname@example.org
Urban Tulsa Weekly, James Bengfort, Associate Publisher,
(918) 592-5550, email@example.com
Colorado Springs Independent, Teri Homick, VO Retail Sales,
The Independent Weekly, Gloria Mock, Advertising Director,
(919) 286-1972 ext 130, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hartford Advocate, Sean Hitchcock, Ad Director,
Rochester City Newspaper, Bill Towler, Co-Publisher,
585-244-3329 ext 20, email@example.com
The consensus is that an annual manual is a great addition to the special sections calendar. Advertisers will be attracted to the high quality glossy ads and the yearlong shelf life. Readers will appreciate the well-edited, comprehensive guide to your city, and you will be thankful for the increased revenue. Producing an annual manual is a labor of love, and it calls for a dedicated effort from all departments, but the results will be nothing short of awesome.