Mail Group Mulls Global LocalPeople, Doubling Network

Associated Northcliffe Digital in the UK says it’s planning to double the number of local community sites it operates over the next year, and may export the project to other countries, after finding what it says is sign of commercial success in the idea.

AND launched LocalPeople in 2009 as a network of sites organised by a freelance community publisher and contributed to by local citizens. It’s now up to 100 sites, eight of which became profitable last month, managing director Roland Bryan says…

“We now feel we’ve proved there is pretty significant user enthusam and engagement. Across the network, we’re now seeing 320,000 uniques and, per town, penetration of about 20 percent of all the online households using our sites at least once a month.

“The thing that’s been the real clincher, we’ve been seeing really good revenue growth across the sites, well ahead of our expectations.”

Unlike Northcliffe’s ThisIs website network, sites on which are affiliated with Northcliffe’s existing newspapers, LocalPeople has rolled out in to non-Northcliffe towns and, Bryan says, towns that were poorly served by community from anyone: “Local businesses there previously have not had media with which to connect with their customers.”

LocalPeople employs one ad salesperson for each cluster of four to six sites, selling display banners. “We are looking to scale up our sales resource now we’ve proven the model,” Bryan adds. Actual revenue numbers weren’t disclosed.

The content model is for the community publisher to mobilise community activity amongst local groups, who will use their local site to converse, add content and rate local businesses. In one instance, the site for the 9,000-population Bristol community of Nailsea took over 2,000 users’ votes on the district’s best hairdresser, says Bryan.

The network upgraded to a new platform last month. “We aim to increase the number of sites from 100 to around 200 over the next 12 months across the UK,” Bryan says. “We want to focus on the right areas, we don’t just publish in to Northcliffe areas, wherever there’s a lively community.”

LocalPeople certainly seems to exist in something of a vacuum from Northcliffe’s core regional online news strategy – Nailsea may have a LocalPeople site, but ThisIsBristol (Bristol Evening Post) already covers Nailsea, for example…

“Northcliffe helps us with cross-promotion and driving users to the site, but actually we’re trying to do smthing very different,” Bryan says. “We’re trying to be much more locally oriented.

“We’re much more focused on place than a news agenda. About 90 to 95 percent of the content is different across the two sites. It’s a very soft news agenda. There’s typically not a huge set of news stories breaking that week (in LocalPeople districts).”

Right now, the network covers only England, and mainly the south. “We definitely see possibilities in other parts of the British Isles,” Bryan says. “And we’ve been approched by a number of others publishers outside the UK that like the platform. This could be something we take outside the UK – that would be extremely exciting for us. We’re having a number of exploratory conversations.”

Bryan is also keen to take the platform to other indigenous local online publishers, whether from the big news publishers or hyperlocal amateurs, enticing them away from platforms like, Ning, which now required payments, with the promise of a commercial split.