By Mark Hanzlik, Executive Director
Assessing our performance as a network over the previous year is not something we do as often these days. Some might think it’s because our industry is in decline and there’s little to get excited about but I think it’s simply because we can no longer see our future based on what we’ve done in the past.
Either way, backward glances can be slogs through a history of unimportant facts and details, so I’ll try to reflect in a somewhat concise manner.
The number of publications in our print network remains about the same every year (153 titles), but revenue continues to pale in comparison not only to our high water mark in 1999 but to every recorded year since the inception of the network.
Certainly, outside forces changing the nature of publishing a print product in our day and age account for most of the decline but Alt Weeklies particularly in larger markets have also suffered from limited resources and revenue decline in the traditional ad combo of sin business (liquor, tobacco, sex) and classified ads.
A bit more difficult to assess are some of the changes within the industry itself —positive and negative. Many publications have been able to reinvent themselves and maintain a sense of stability and viability within their own communities. This hunkering-down has been somewhat at the expense of the industry and/or group effort that would help bolster growth and stability. Of course we notice the change at AWN. Each year, we function less as a cooperative sales network with members investing and developing revenue together and more as a clearinghouse for non-local advertising arriving often in one-off fashion.
With most of the healthy success coming from mid-size and small publications, larger urban markets continue to struggle to survive in the new media universe where print market shares shrink more dramatically.
Two AWN charter members ceased publishing in 2015. Philadelphia City Paper and Albany Metroland were not only award-winning and robust editorial products in their respective markets but also important AWN members. Philadelphia is the 4th largest market in the country and Albany is New York’s capital city, both made the grade quite often.
The flipside of these departures is the addition of a half-dozen new titles in our database. New publications added to our list doesn’t automatically equal new revenue but the opportunity for business and extension of our reach doesn’t hurt.
This year we are celebrating 20 years of AWN as a legal entity. In March 1996, more than a dozen Alt Weekly leaders gathered in Sacramento to form the incorporating board of directors for soon-to-be-launched non-profit advertising cooperative.
20 years on.