Online real-estate: Start up with sponsors

“There are a lot of niches in a newspaper, and everyone of these is going to be a niche online.”
John Rebchook, author, reporter and publisher of the Colorado real-estate blog, Inside Real Estate News, took two years to prove that the niche he had developed as a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News could be replicated as a sustainable independent business online, and that working his niche could eventually replace his old newspaper salary.
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This Business Insight, by Robert Schwab, was first posted on The SchwabBlog July 15. It has been rewritten slightly to better serve PioneerHQ.com’s readers. Schwab is the editor of  PioneerHQ.com.
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Rebchook expects to reach that revenue mark this year after a struggle not only to craft an attractive online presence for his work as a journalist, but also to carry his audience from the Rocky, which closed in February 2009, to the blog which he launched in July that same year.

Rebchook’s blog represents the future of journalism in the 21st century. Out of the creative destruction of the newspaper industry, which is still struggling to find business models that work, come individual journalists who turn their old work for an employer into a work product sold through the new small businesses they create to replace their collapsed careers.Starting a new business online is a challenge for any entrepreneur because the profitable business model is still a work in progress, a trial-and-error experiment desperately in search of revenue.

Online-only media start ups are doubly challenged because their product is information, and the information superhighway — the Internet — was started with no toll booths. In the beginning, Internet readers expected to take what they could get from it for free.
Established media organizations from The New York Times to 9 News have always made money selling advertising to businesses that wanted to reach their thousands and millions of readers and viewers. As the Internet started to steal those readers and viewers, Big Media began to chase them, creating their own Internet products and trying to convert traditional readers and viewers into their own online consumers.
But Big Media could never make as much money selling online advertising as it did from selling print or broadcast ads. A little like Rebchook trying to replace his newspaper salary with revenue produced by readers of his online real-estate reporting.
Now, small online-only media startups will never pull down the huge numbers that major media organizations consider necessary to sustain themselves — usually measured in monthly unique visits to a website. Large media organizations tally those in the millions of visits per month.
But small online businesses can pull down unique visits numbered in the thousands, and Rebchook has proven those numbers can sustain his small company.
How has he done it? He said several of his sources while he worked at the Rocky came to him after the newspaper closed and proposed starting an online product where they could continue to read Rebchook’s independent reporting.
Universal Lending Corp., a large mortgage bank in the region, Land Title Guarantee Co., a large title company, and 8Z Real Estate, a statewide brokerage, chipped in to sponsor Rebchook’s blog, meaning they funded the operation and made sure Rebchook could continue to support his family as the project got underway. The Denver Post also sponsored the blog for a year but then dropped its financial backing. Rebchook says he has been approached by other potential commercial sponsors, but so far hasn’t taken on any more than his original trio.

Today, Rebchook reports 25,000 unique visits per month to the site, and 15,000 unique visitors, with an average staying time on the site of about two minutes, which in the online world represents deep reading and an eternity of any one visitor’s attention span.Unique visitors are distinguished from unique visits by the staying power of any one reader; for example, a reader who went to Rebchook’s site to check out one of his latest scoops (Payton Manning’s closing on a $4.575 million home in Cherry Hills Village) may have also stayed to read reports on the heating up of the luxury-home market in Denver and the warming of the commercial real-estate market in the metro area.

Those stories attract both a Colorado and national sports audience, as well as the professional real-estate audience that may be selling homes to other relocating professional athletes or CEOs in Colorado or elsewhere, or who use the recovery of the luxury-home market as a measure of a town’s comeback within its regional economy.

That’s what the Internet has done to the information industry in this country. It has thrown open the doors of publishing to anyone who has information to sell by knocking down the capital cost of entry to the industry; it has put the future of journalism into the hands of journalists who do the work; and it has made available to the world’s readers the pages of any book, magazine, text, newspaper, academic research paper or other collection of knowledge gathered in one place in any language.

Or at least that’s the direction we’re moving toward. John Rebchook is already a regular contributor.

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