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Fifteen Chicago websites — some of them hyperlocal, others citywide — have united to form the Chicago Independent Ad Network. Collectively, they are offering advertisers a minimum of one million page views a month. Each month the ad network will sell five ads — 300 x 350 pixels — that will rotate throughout all 15 sites. In the beginning — the service was announced Wednesday and will launch November 1 — each ad will cost $2,400 and the revenues will be divided among the sites prorated by page views.
The network's informal business manager is Mike Fourcher, founder of three hyperlocal sites that are in the network, Edgeville Buzz, Roscoe View Journal, and Center Square Journal, and business manager of Early and Often, the now moribund election pay site that was a collaboration between the Chicago News Cooperative (another network member) and Aldertrack.
Fourcher "is definitely more entrepreneurial than most journalists who put together their own sites," said Ngoan Le, vice president of programs for the Chicago Community Trust, which has given the network $50,000 in start-up funding.
Under its Community News Matter initiative with the Knight Foundation, CCT has given seed money to a number of innovative local news sites, and Le told me that at a meeting with the donees about a year and a half ago to discuss common concerns, Dave Greising of the Chicago News Cooperative raised the idea of a network that would support sites that are simply too small to attract advertisers on their own. It turned out a lot of people at the table had the same idea. A consultant who'd help create similar networks in other parts of the country was brought in to study the Chicago market and concluded it has "great potential," said Le, and Fourcher was chosen to spend CCT's $50,000 on assembling a sales staff and marketing the network.
"We want to start small," he says. "A good rule is to do something really well and be successful at it, and then think of other things." Which is to say the network could grow, and sites the size of the Reader's aren't necessarily off the radar.
But some sites were considered still too small to include. The three criteria, said Le, were quality, an emphasis on local news, and enough individual traffic to collectively interest advertisers. A site that didn't meet the test, she told me, is Austin Talks, whose traffic "is not strong enough to include at this stage. But we can always expand."
She continued, "The one great thing about philanthropy is that we can invest in projects that show potential to do new and breakthrough work. There's an element of risk involved, obviously. We understand the risk involved. We believe if we only invest in safe projects we'll never be able to support new discoveries."
What's the risk? I asked. "To build common platforms for 15 different entities, it's not easy," she said. "People will have to agree to certain standards and rules." Also, she said, it remains to be seen if advertisers are interested in the package the network will offer.
But Fourcher says, "We think we have some of the most civically engaged and influential consumers looking at our sites," and bundled together, he thinks advertisers will want to reach them. He calls the reception so far "spectacular."
Other members of the network are the Beachwood Reporter, Catalyst Chicago, the Chicago Reporter, the Community Media Workshop, Evanston Now, Gapers Block, the Local Tourist, Mindful Metropolis, the Neighborhood Parents Network, Reel Chicago, and Windy Citizen.