soulciti is the e-zine for black folks living in Austin, Texas. Founded by Donell Creech in 1998 as the Distro list-serv, it publishes news and entertainment to the city’s African-American population. It’s an important resource to a niche market that would otherwise travel to events in Dallas and Houston.
My long-time business associate Nigel Prentice and I were joint partners in soulciti at one time. We focused on two principal areas: Subscription Enrollment and Sustainability via Advertising Revenue.
Donell had done a fantastic job building the list-serv to more than 2000 opt-in subscribers through simple WOM marketing. However, technical obstacles seemed to prevent enrollment from surpassing this threshold. In order to subscribe to a list-serv, Users had to email a series of commands in the subject line of an email. As a result, the soulciti audience skewed heavily toward technical savvy university students and professionals .
We conducted a series of member meet-ups in order to generate buzz, strengthen the soulciti brand and to tighten the bond across it’s subscriber base.
Sustainability via Advertising Revenue
At the time of my participation as a partner, two revenue models competed for viability on the Internet. Publishing companies experimented with paid content versus advertising. We recognized the benefits of advertising over paid content: broader reach, cheaper engineering and closer alignment to the “spirit” of the web. However, we didn’t want to alienate our visitors or obstruct the user experience. The advertising model has proven to beat paid content in general news & entertainment publishing, but it wasn’t a given at the time of our planning.
We built a custom survey web-application (hey, this is before mashups and APIs!) and asked subscribers to tell us about themselves. Thanks to a dedicated subscriber base, we enjoyed an overwhelming 60% response rate and were able to compile a detailed subscriber profile that included gender, race, marriage status, locality, income and preferences.
We then built an advertising kit (print and online) and rate card for advertising and sponsorship opportunities. We were able to offer custom promotional services and ensure a superior ROI to businesses wanting to reach our niche target.
We hosted multiple sell-out events and subscriptions burst to more than 4500 people within 60 days, a gain of 125%. Subscriptions are currently north of 13,300 and the publication is completely supported by advertising revenue.
soulcity helps the Central Texas economy by retaining and attracting local recreational spending. The publication continues to evolve, offering web and e-direct properties, event planning, promotional services and strategic partnerships.