If you head south from Wyoming into Colorado and Utah you'll begin running into the Swift Communications newspaper markets in resort towns that look similar to Jackson Hole: Park City, Utah; Vail and Aspen, Colorado among them.
Unlike the Jackson Hole News & Guide, which is paid and locally-owned, Swift’s newspapers are free and operate within a corporate structure.
The company has acquired 25 newspapers over six states focusing largely on mountain resort towns and spun off four small newspapers outside of these demographics in early 2018.
Vail Daily is the largest newspaper of the group, running about 70 pages a day during high seasons, including 24 to 36 pages of classifieds, mostly real estate ads, during the high summer and winter seasons.
Publisher Mark Wurzer puts it bluntly, “If you want to have a good business you want to be in a good market. “
Talking to Wurzer, seemed vaguely similar to my conversation with Adam Meyer, over at the Jackson Daily. It was only after reviewing my notes, that I realised why; not because they are both in resort towns, but because Wurzer too wanted to talk mostly about content and audience, even though Swift newspapers are free.
He broke down the Vail Daily’s market for me into three groups: 42,000 full-time residents, 18,000 second homeowners and a tidal wave of 4.5 million visitors.
The Vail Daily circulation is distributed strategically - including 500 newsboxes and hotel rooms - to maximize readers per copy.
Wurzer is especially proud of a fall 2018 survey showing 89% of locals, 87% of second homeowners and 56% of visitors had read the Vail Daily in the past week.
“We have to balance covering important local issues such as the housing shortage and cost, the high cost of healthcare and childcare and the development/environment equation with stories that appeal to locals, second homeowners and visitors who are here to have fun and enjoy the active outdoor lifestyle.
To create better content for the lifestyle-oriented audience, Wurzer teamed up with two other resort town publishers to test a separate digital visitors guide, create on the OneBoat platform (see case study here).
The pilot, Tahoe.com, launched a few years ago now brings in estimated revenues higher than $500,000. The Vail Daily and Summit Daily are now on the platform built around “Stay, Play, Shop and Eat” reaching visitors before they arrive and when they get to town.
“Most of what we do is very local... Editorially we always look for something we can provide that nobody else can. That's what's unique here and in our other mountain resort markets.”
“Big metro markets are having a more difficult time both with readership and the business model that supports local journalism.”
Still, more than 80% of Vail Daily revenue comes from print advertising. In addition to the daily, they run a weekly newspaper, 15 magazines and a full digital portfolio.
Like most markets, there has been some pressure on ad sales, and Swift has a more traditional structure, with corporate offices that provide a centralised digital strategy, with services fulfilled by AdCellerant, a Denver-based digital agency, as of mid-2019.
“We are a small company so we have to decide whether we can do it better ourselves or by partnering.”
Corporate roles aside, like Jackson Hole’s publisher, Wurzer thinks a key part of the magic dust that keeps the company relevant and profitable is values running deeper than strategic thinking.
“[We] are strong believers in how important a good newspaper is in the community. We reinforce every day that good journalism is good for the community and is good for business.”
“It may sound funny to say this but our company really has a good soul.”
At the end of our conversation, Wurzer suggested I talk to a couple of other publishers he met who are expanding newspapers in parts of the country that are not resort towns. In the superpower of micropolitan newspapers Part 4, we go deeper into small-town America to find them and hear what they have to say.