Our vision for the Provincetown Independent when we published our first edition almost four years ago was to create an exceptionally good newspaper. We thought the Outer Cape was ripe for a rebirth of local journalism. It was a vision about community and democracy.
But it was also a business vision. We planned for a level of profitability that would allow for reinvestment to support top-notch reporting of the stories that matter here: our fragile environment, climate change, public health, the arts, the future of this community. We wanted the newspaper to thrive.
As we approach the Indie’s fourth birthday, we can report real progress toward our goals. We continue to operate at a loss, but that was in our business plan — we’re still a start-up. We envisioned breaking even in the fifth year, and the numbers look like that will happen.
Last summer, we launched a Direct Public Offering of stock in the Independent to raise the rest of our start-up capital. It will help us attract more excellent journalists and business staff, pay better salaries, and keep the newspaper growing and thriving.
Our goal was $375,000 in what’s called community investment. It’s a way to broaden local ownership of the paper by making the minimum stock purchase accessible: $500. SEC rules give us one year to hit the target.
As of Tuesday, 192 people have invested in the DPO, and the total raised stands at $292,375. We have just $82,625 to go. The deadline (pushed back two weeks, thanks to a twist in the legal paperwork that we just discovered) is now August 15.
Why would anyone invest in a newspaper in 2023? One of every four papers in the U.S. has closed since 2005. Researchers are mapping America’s growing “news deserts.”
Our optimism comes from looking closely at those closures. The cause was tremendous consolidation of news organizations in the last two decades and pressure to hit inflated profit targets. Newspapers are not as profitable as they were before the internet. But our conversations with publishers of other community weeklies encouraged us. People do care about their local news.
We also learned that while Facebook and Google have wreaked havoc on daily newspapers’ advertising revenue, truly local newspapers in places where there is economic life and community support can still be profitable.
The support we have received from you — by subscribing, becoming regular advertisers, writing articles and letters, and submitting photographs, and by donating to our nonprofit partner, the Local Journalism Project — has put us very close to our goal.
Our target for paid circulation when we launched was 7,500. With our June 29 issue, we broke the 6,000 mark for the first time.
Last October, when we made our annual report to the Postal Service, our total paid circulation was 5,447. The other two Outer Cape weeklies, both owned by Gannett, the largest newspaper holding company in the U.S., continued their precipitous declines: the Provincetown Banner was down to 1,121 and the Cape Codder’s circulation was 2,517.
In the advertising department, the picture is also encouraging. The Covid-19 crisis was a setback, and the Independent’s advertising revenue in the pandemic years was below what we had envisioned in our business plan. In 2020, total ad revenue was $237,000; in 2021, it was $387,000. Last year we saw the start of a real recovery, with ad revenue of $488,000. So far this year, advertising is up sharply, and we are projecting more than $825,000 in ad revenue. That would represent about 50 percent of the newspaper’s total revenue — just what we hoped for in terms of support from the local business community.
In its first three years, the Independent has won 47 awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. In 2022, the Indie was named Newspaper of the Year among New England weeklies with circulations over 5,000.
The Independent would not be nearly as good as it is without the support of donors. Your gifts to the Local Journalism Project have allowed us to work with dozens of aspiring journalists whose stories appear in these pages. That experience has proved to us that there is a new generation of people who believe in independent journalism and want to pursue it for their careers.
Our plan calls for us to continue to invite donors and philanthropists to help us do things an ordinary newspaper cannot do. Keeping the education of young writers at the center of our work is a start.
The one area where we are falling short of our goals is staffing, and the Outer Cape’s housing crisis has made recruiting enormously more difficult. We are currently looking to hire a managing editor, an arts editor, a part-time photo editor, three full-time reporters, an advertising sales representative, and an associate publisher.
Completing our Direct Public Offering of stock by August 15 will put us where we want to be. Our goal is to secure the future of the Outer Cape’s only independent news organization by building on the firm foundation that so many people in this community have laid for it. We need your help to get there. If you are able, please join the 192 who have already become investors.