Oct 7, 2010 8:14 PM by Zach Thaxton
John Weiss is careful to emphasize that The Independent, the free weekly newspaper he founded nearly 20 years ago, is strong and sustainable even without the massive influx of advertising revenue from the medical marijuana industry in the past year, but its impact cannot be denied.
"We have three part-time people who became full-time employees, we've hired a full-time reporter, we've hired a full-time ad director," Weiss explains. The rapid rise of the medical marijuana industry, or MMJ, has created a boon of cash flow for The Independent and other newspapers at a time when many other advertisers have pulled their ads amid tough economic times. "We didn't see this coming, but we pounced on it when we saw the demand," Weiss says.
The unique situation in Colorado Springs, with its proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries and for The Independent with its surge in revenue from MMJ advertisers, was the subject of an article in The New York Times earlier this week. The article began by colorfully stating that the latest issue of The Indy's MMJ supplement called ReLeaf "landed with a satisfying thud" when it was distributed last week. Weiss says that at 48 pages, "a thud it does not make," but it certainly helps the bottom line. "We're servicing an industry that is trying to reach new customers," he says.
One of those customers is All Good Care Center near Pikes Peak and Wahsatch downtown. David Schiller, manager of the dispensary, says in an industry as competitive as his, advertising is a must. "You have to keep your name out there," he says. "If you can't afford it, it's going to be tough for you on the other side." Schiller paid slightly more than $1,000 for a full-page color advertisement on page 8 of ReLeaf. "They aren't inexpensive by any stretch of the imagination," Schiller says. But worth it. "We've been advertising with The Independent since we've been open and without them I feel that we might not have as many patients as we do."
The mainstream daily subscription newspaper, The Gazette, also receives its share of ad revenue from the MMJ industry, but it comprises a much smaller slice of the pie. Associate Publisher Judi Terzotis says, "We've seen a small revenue stream, but nothing significant." However, she admits MMJ advertising is a game-changer. "In this day and age, we're looking for every revenue source we can find and it absolutely is a huge opportunity for us," she says. She also says mainstream media has lagged behind alternative media in embracing medical marijuana advertisements as a reliable revenue source.
Weiss believes the boon is temporary. He says competition will eventually weed out some of the weaker MMJ businesses and demand for ad space will decline. "We anticipate that in two or three years it's going to attenuate," he says. "It won't go away, but it's probably at its biggest right now."