Sun Commentary: A place for everything local

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Last week Northeastern University journalism professor and media expert Dan Kennedy profiled the Sun on NiemanLab.org, a site run by the Neiman Foundation at Harvard University whose goal is “to promote and elevate the standards of journalism.”

We’ve heard many positive comments about the detailed, well-written piece, but one line in particular raised questions. It regarded an initiative we hadn’t yet announced. We’d like to tell you about it, not only what it is but what it means. It will give you more insight into what we’re doing at the Sun and where we’re taking this company.

“Soon they hope to unveil the first in a line of ebooks,” Kennedy wrote.

The Worcester Sun is pleased to announce it will soon accept submissions from local authors into an ebook marketplace.

In simplest terms, the arrangement will work in two ways. Authors can submit their completed ebook directly to the marketplace, name their price and receive royalties at a rate better or comparable to other stores. We will also offer a second option for selected works in which we will pay the local author an upfront fee for the rights to serialize their work to Sun members while offering members the ability to purchase the book at any time.

We’re creating this outlet for local authors for the same reason we’ve profiled local game developers and local crowdfunding initiatives. We believe the sheer expansiveness of digital media means that while it’s easier than ever to publish a work online or seek funding, it’s possible (and many times probable) that the work will not find its natural or proper audience.

The Sun believes one solution to this problem, which we call discoverability, can be to present the works of local authors to a local audience.

In a larger sense this means the Worcester Sun will become a multi-product platform for local media and commerce, not just journalism. Enabling the sale of ebooks is the first step in that direction.

Over time, as we determine which products are a good fit, we will expand our platform into other areas such as daily deals, event booking and ticketing, even services and physical goods. We had to start somewhere, though, and as our members are already reading our work it seems a logical next step to offer the works of local authors.

To those who question the wisdom of expanding into areas currently occupied by the likes of Amazon, Groupon, Eventbrite and Angie’s List, our response is that while each of those companies does what it does well, we believe there’s a market for a Worcester company that can offer the entire range of products focused on the city of Worcester and surrounding towns.

Our future digital plans do not diminish our desire, as Kennedy noted, to expand into a paid print newspaper on Sunday.

Despite the well-known challenges newspapers have faced over the last 15 years, we believe there remains a large audience of both readers and advertisers for Sunday print. We acknowledge, however, that the audience can only be reached and served if the value received is greater than the price being paid. In other words, we believe the exponential increase in news sources and advertising options over the last 15 years means that only those products that appeal to a mass audience at a competitive price can flourish. We intend to produce just that type of product.

We also see print as a way to increase the public’s awareness of the Sun. We’re grateful to all those who have become members, and we’re glad to welcome new members every day, but Worcester itself is home to 183,000 people. That means we still have our work cut out for us.

Our plans for print may have you questioning the need for our aggressive digital expansion into a full-fledged platform. The reason we do this is that while there currently exists a market for print we understand long-term trends strongly point to giving way more and more to digital information sources.

We believe our digital expansion plans will make the Sun less reliant on journalism as a single source of support. If we are correct, our digital platform will provide sustainable long-term value to our members and the businesses that engage with our members. For the Sun, that is a bright and exciting future and we are aiming for it diligently. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome, and your support very appreciated.

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