Paper Trials

New publications seem to appear on Wilmington's newsstands every few months. Changing technology has made launching new magazines and newspapers easier than ever... but the market suggests, it's no easier to be successful at it. WHQR's Megan Williams has this report.

Wilmington, NC – If you want to know what's going on around region this weekend, you've got a lot of options, heaps of options, racked near the doors of local businesses, or lying inside rows of newspaper boxes. And none of them will cost you a dime. Sitting in front of the General Assembly coffee shop, Sarah Masoud and Leslie Linear, have their reading lists down.

"Focus on the Coast and the Encore." "We look at the Encore and then the Coffee News." "Sometimes the Village Idiot." "I think I've looked at that once. That's kind of funny..."

Wilmington is awash in free publications, and before we get any further into this look at them, it's full disclosure time. WHQR has promotional relationships with many of these titles... including encore, The Star News, which puts out Currents, Focus on the Coast, and the Wilmington Business Journal, sister publication to Wilma. Actually, that list alone leads to the main question here, just how many free entertainment publications can the region's readers... and its advertisers... support?

"It's very competitive and getting more so all the time. It seems every time we turn around there's something new out there." Says Wilma publisher, Joy Allen. She won't say the market is saturated, but all the titles out there do keep her on her toes.

"Because there's a limited amount of dollars, we're all basically competing for the same pie. And it certainly does make it rough, but in theory it should make us all try harder and make better publications."

Wilma's actually only been around for three years. It's among several new publications to test Wilmington's waters in the past few years, but one of the few to survive the experience. Desktop publishing has lowered the bar to join the in-print club and according to newspaper industry analyst John Morton, it also makes for crowded markets. "And of course that sometimes makes it difficult for all of them to prosper, so you tend to see them come and go a little bit, but clearly they have proliferated in number."

Slick packaging is one way new publications fight for readers' eyes, and advertisers' dollars. The free entertainment magazine Limelight debuted this month, and will look familiar to former big city residents. It's modeled on the "time out" guides that lead New Yorkers to the best of off-Broadway. In launching a Wilmington incarnation, publisher Keith Jaworski says content is only part of the package. As he flips through that first issue, Jaworski tries to describe the desired reading experience: "the colors are vibrant. It feels good. You can open it up, the pages will stay open. You can hold something and look at it."

Jaworski's no stranger to publishing in Wilmington. His company, seaside media, has produced Wilmington Parent for the past ten years. Having one publication certainly makes it easier to start a second, he says. And indeed, most of Wilmington's free papers and magazines share their publishers with a few other titles. It allows them to share overhead, and according to Jaworski, gives a new titles a foot in the door with advertisers.

"It's hard to sell a concept," he says. "If you have some background, if they're familiar with you, then it's a little bit easier. You have a little more credibility than someone who comes into town and says, "Write me a check for this and yeah we'll publish this every month." And they do it maybe for a month and you never see them again."

Jaworski predicts Limelight will be self-sufficient by next year. To do that, he's going to have to convince a lot of local businesses to stake their ad budgets on his magazine. Standing in her designer clothing store on market street, Edge of Urge owner Jessie Williams, says she currently advertises with encore and Focus on the Coast because they hit two different demographics. But does she hear from other publications?

"Oh, all the time. Always for something, for advertising or donations or something. It gets really expensive. It's hard to say no sometimes... but I have to look out for my own wallet. It's hard running a business."

In any case, Williams says, she has faith in the oldest advertising method of them all... word of mouth.

Megan Williams, WHQR News.

You can find more about this story our website: WHQR-dot-ORG. Support for local arts and cultural programming comes from WHQR members, and Landfall Foundation, an organization of residents who support projects enhancing health, education and the arts in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender Counties.