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Wall St. and Business Wednesdays: Ethnic Papers Thrive In Flagging Market by Lisa van der Pool

El Planeta has spent the better part of its young existence situated in 250 square feet of office space. The Spanish-language newsweekly's startup staff of three fit comfortably in 2004. Two months ago -- bursting at the seams with 12 employees -- the paper moved into a 1,300-square-foot office across the hall from its former shoebox-sized headquarters.

El Planeta editor Javier Marín says his fledgling publication has been able to grow from a controlled circulation of 5,000 to 50,000 thanks to advertisers interested in reaching Boston's approximately 85,000 Hispanic residents. Today, El Planeta publishes editions in Boston, Lawrence, Worcester and Providence and plans to increase its circulation to 70,000 copies by year-end. Advertising pages represent 45 percent to 50 percent of the 20-page paper, up 20 percent from two years ago. And last year, the Phoenix Media Communications Group in Boston bought a 35 percent stake in the company.

"It has been an evolution," said Marín, a Venezuela native who founded El Planeta's publishing house Hispanic News Press in Brookline in 2001. "El Planeta is a product of that evolution."

El Planeta's success is a reflection of the strength and growing reach of ethnic media, both across the nation and in Boston. As the big daily newspapers struggle to maintain a strong readership base, ethnic publications find their niche audiences growing and advertisers reconsidering the value of ethnic audiences -- a trend due in large part to the rise of immigration, according to industry watchers.

"This is one of the most vibrant sectors of the media landscape and especially in newspapers. It is one of the few areas that there is growth," said Ellen Hume, a journalism professor and founder of the Ethnic Media Project at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Greater Boston is home to about 100 ethnic media outlets, including newspapers, magazines and radio stations that range from mom-and-pop operations to profitable businesses. Most cover Boston news as it relates to each ethnic group and often report and comment on issues ignored by the mainstream media. Some also cover news overseas.

One of Boston's oldest ethnic media outlets is Boston Neighborhood News Inc. in Dorchester, which profitably publishes newspapers targeted to a range of ethnicities: The company publishes the Boston Haitian Reporter, the Boston Irish Reporter, the Mattapan Reporter and its flagship, the Dorchester Reporter.

This past year, revenue has grown thanks to a spike in the Irish Reporter's ad pages due in large part to a proliferation of airline advertising. The Boston Haitian Reporter was launched in 2001 and the Boston Irish Reporter began in 1990; they have circulations of 10,000 and 20,000, respectively. Although the company declined to disclose its revenue, the number of advertising pages in its Irish Reporter newspaper increased substantially this year, driven primarily by airline advertising.

"It's easier for us because we have a broader platform of outlets. It can be treacherous to rely solely on one niche," said Bill Forry, managing editor of the papers. Readers are "getting a slice of news content that is just not available elsewhere, and that's why it's sustainable and attractive to certain advertisers. I think you're going to see growth in this sector because of that."

Another media outlet that saw a boost in ad page revenue is Waltham-based The Mishra Group Inc., which publishes India New England and the Indus Business Journal, both of which target the regional Indian community. India New England's ad pages saw a 20 percent growth in 2005 over 2004, according to publisher Peter Glaser. India New England, a biweekly, usually publishes 44 pages an issue.

"India New England had a very good year in 2005 because targeted marketing for a lot of advertisers has come into vogue," said Glaser. "Traditionally, most of our advertising came from Indian restaurants, Indian jewelers and insurance agencies. Where we made a lot of progress last year was reaching out to the mainstream advertisers. We had a lot of success convincing them that our market was an attractive one to reach."

The Indus Business Journal added Jaguar, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and American Airlines, while India New England has drawn advertising from such local universities as Simmons College.

Still, some publications struggle to turn a profit, such as Sampan, a biweekly Chinese-English paper that has covered Chinatown since 1972 -- and has reported in depth on issues like crime, prostitution and development in its neighborhood.

Sampan has a staff of four and a circulation of about 10,000 and hopes its Web site will attract a new crop of readers.

"We struggle to break even," said editor Adam Smith. "We're not exactly profitable, but it's enough to stay afloat."

Despite its small size, Sampan is one of the standout ethnic publications in Boston, according to Hume. Other players in the space include the Hispanic publications El Planeta, El Mundo Newspaper and Brazilian Times; the African-American-targeted The Bay State Banner; and India New England.

The bottom line is that ethnic publications make business sense for advertisers looking to target ethnic markets. One example is Goodwin Proctor LLP, which after limited success promoting its free small-business workshop in the calendar sections of Boston's major papers, purchased ads in El Planeta and the Bay State Banner.

"We wanted to reach entrepreneurs and small-business owners in Boston neighborhoods. Last year we felt like we didn't reach the right audience," said Anna Dodson, a partner at the Boston-based firm. "Our advertising in El Planeta was tremendously successful."

This article was published by The Boston Business Journal.

© 2006 Boston Business Journal

Lisa van der Pool

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

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