Old School meets New Media

STATS:

  • Members: 25,219- “It’s more about engagement and traffic than membership numbers.”
  • 145K unique visits a month – Reaching way more people than when we were in print
  • 34,000 Facebook fans; 18,000 Twitter followers
  • Generating profitable revenue

No Depression started as a critically acclaimed print magazine established in 1995, covering “Roots” and “Americana music”–folk, singer songwriter, indie rock, classic country, bluegrass, southern rock, blues, and “handmade music.” In 2009, founder Kyla Fairchild used Ning to turn the popular magazine into a dynamic and profitable community-content driven destination for music lovers.

“We needed a platform to create a content site with a sustainable business model to keep No Depression alive and Ning allowed that to happen.”

Before its demise, Fairchild ran the business side of the magazine. She faced a number of obstacles: “The business model for print has been deteriorating. Music labels don’t have as much money for advertising, and there’s been a huge shift in music and magazine distribution with major retailers closing,” she says.

“Many print publishers have simply folded. We made the decision to go out of business, too. But when [we] announced we were shutting down, we had so many fans of the magazine reach out and say we couldn’t just quit. It reminded us we still had a strong brand and loyal audience.”

Despite Fairchild’s business degree and years of print magazine sales, she calls her first years online, “my degree in advanced web technology from the school of hard knocks where my diploma paid back my student loans.”

Thriving in a brave new media world

Says Fairchild: “In time we’ve evolved into a new form that makes sense in this day and age.” Many magazines have gone online, simply duplicating their print content model, but No Depression has taken a more community-based route.

“Ning has allowed No Depression to not just exist–but to thrive.”

“The community aspect of the site is the thing that has helped us the most–now the community creates content, rather than just reading it,” says Fairchild. “Our Ning network is more of a content site first–and a discussion community second. But it all starts with the content, and the content starts with the community members.”

Fairchild explains how content creation works on Nodepression.com: “Community members can write about whatever they want. They post it, we curate and choose what we want to feature on homepage and put in our email newsletter.”

Quality comes from curation, but crowdsourcing creates variety.

This crowdsourced content model allows for more opinions than No Depression’s original magazine. “We might have several reviews of the same recording–that’s something you never see in a magazine. Some will love it, some will hate it–the same recording. It’s a unique angle to get those varying perspectives and our readers love it.”

Fairchild was used to working with professional writers, so she was initially concerned about the quality of community-created content on the site. But, she explains, “I ended up hearing that people loved this format because it gave them more opinions–and made it easy to connect with each other, strike up conversations, and listen to music they’re reading about while they’re reading.”

The new format is beneficial for content creators as well. “When we feature members for their great stories, photos, videos, or blogs, they get more attention and readers. Every story has a link to the writer’s profile so readers can see everything that contributor has done–helping the content creator build their own brand and fan-base, too,” she says.

Content made Sustainable

Fairchild is justifiably proud of the way her community has come together.
“I’ve been selling ads since the beginning, so the site generated revenue from the start–but now, after a few years, it’s making a profit,” she says. “Though our start online was new, we had an existing respected brand, and readers who believed in the mission.”

“The community has helped prove that it’s possible to have a sustainable content site online.”

Fairchild continues: “Magazines are struggling, and this has been a really interesting experiment to find a new way to approach content that people might not have thought of otherwise. Ning has allowed No Depression to evolve into what it needs. I see it as the evolution of journalism online. A lot of publications could take note of this as a way to expand their online presence to benefit content and communities.”

“Now people in the music industry look at No Depression, a heritage brand, and are impressed with what we’ve been able to do online.”

“Now we’re able to continue to shine the light on artists who are creating great music who might not otherwise get noticed. We’re a trusted filter and music recommendation source that lets music-lovers connect with like minded people.”

Tips for publishers

  • Nodepression’s biggest traffic source is an email newsletter featuring recent content and pieces from the archive that’s sent out every Tuesday and Friday.
  • Fairchild also fosters quality contributors, “I do some outreach to established journalists and music bloggers and help them understand how they can use our community to build their own brand. I encourage them to post or cross-post on the site, and I’m continually thanking and engaging them in a way that makes them motivated to keep doing it,” says Fairchild.
  • Nodepression posts on Facebook and Twiter three times each day with links to the site—a simple way to push out new content.

Setting standards through moderation

“We promote some active users to help with moderation. If someone consistently posts great videos, we set them up as a video moderator who can help us feature the best videos. We also have an awesome intern who edits blogs for style so they have a consistent look, formatting and feel.

Fairchild advocates being active as a moderator. “Set a standard for the kind of discord you expect. When people come on and don’t abide by that, everyone in the community will jump on them.”

She also advises that community leaders keep things organized. For example, when people come on the site and post questions where there was already a similar thread, she’ll send them a note and link to the one that exists.

Fairchild advises, “Communities like this can become messy and get out of hand with people posting random and self-promotional stuff. You can’t be afraid to exercise authority over your community.”

“We couldn’t have done it without Ning and wouldn’t even have thought of doing it this way if it hadn’t been for the way the Ning platform functions.”

Fairchild features Ning’s Activity Feed, “It increases engagement on the site because people can see what blogs are getting commented on. They might find an old blog and comment and that pulls it up into the feed in a way that others can now discover it. The feed also shows that people are active on the site and encourages everyone to be active so their names show up on the feed.

“Our home page is all about promoting the best content which brings new people to the site, and helps our existing members see what’s new and good.”

Fairchild says, “We were able to generate revenue right from the start. There is lots of opportunity in niche areas to reach a targeted audience for advertisers. And, if you have loyal members, as we do, then you should consider a donation paywall as well. When your members truly appreciate the place you’ve provided for them, they’re happy to donate towards the cause–and that can help cover the expenses.

“Finally–Keep your ego out of it, don’t make it about you. I see communities where it’s all about the main person and they let their ego drive it. That’s one of the things I’ve tried to actively avoid–No Depression is bigger than me–it’s the voice of the community.”