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Advertising, circulation losses sink The Island Times

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Advertising, circulation losses sink The Island Times

PORTLAND — The Island Times, a 10-year-old, monthly community newspaper covering Peaks Island and other Casco Bay islands, is ceasing operation, publisher Kevin Attra announced last week.

Shrinking ad revenue, distribution and readership accounted for Attra's decision to close, he wrote in the free newspaper's final issue.

"(The Island Times) was quite self-sustaining until last year, when ad revenue started disappearing," Attra said on Sunday.

He noted that the paper was "an all-volunteer enterprise" with about a dozen people helping. Revenue was used to cover printing costs and other operating expenses.

"Several large ads dropped out ... some regulars stopped paying as well," Attra said. "Then I also noticed circulation was shrinking. People just weren't reading it."

Circulation usually ranged from 3,000 during off-seasons to 5,000 during the  summer, according to Attra. He printed just 2,000 copies of the 12-page final issue.

"It was a bittersweet moment when I sent the last file to the printer," he said.

A carpenter, environmental chemist, musician, and since 2007, a Peaks Island resident, Attra began writing for The Island Times as a volunteer without previous journalism experience. He took over as publisher after co-founders Mary Lou Wendell and David Tyler left the paper in 2008.

"For five years I spent the last week of every month in frantic desperation, holed up in front of a computer trying to get the paper to press on time. I sometimes would take a victory lap around the island on my bike afterward," he said.

"Now the pressure is gone. I feel like I'm on my victory lap every day."

Attra said he plans to archive the issues he published on the paper's website, which which hasn't been updated for two years. He also may post a video blog on the site, featuring interviews with island residents.

The paper could resume publishing as a nonprofit community service if enough funding is found, Attra suggested. He said that possibility is being explored, but efforts have been unsuccessful.

The end of The Island Times comes less than a year after another Portland-based community paper, The West End News, stopped publishing. The West End News continues to publish an online version, but the print edition has been up for sale since September.

Another community paper in southern Maine, The Harpswell Anchor, recently went to an all-online format, pressured by the loss of advertising revenue and staff.

Despite those changes, reports of the demise of community papers are greatly exaggerated, according to Cheryl Wormley, president of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

"Readership of our newspapers, mostly weeklies, is increasing and new community newspapers are being born. That the great investor Warren Buffett bought more than 60 community newspapers in 2012 suggests there is present and future value in the weekly and small-daily arm of the industry," she wrote in a column published in The Forecaster on Jan. 21.

Attra said he feels there's a need for an island-focused paper.

"I think the island community has a unique need for an actual newspaper," he said, because island residents share some interests that are unlike those of mainland residents – and islanders spend a lot of time reading as they ride and wait for ferries.

"It's nice to have something to hold besides a beer can," Attra said, "something you can read and  learn a little from, or at least be entertained by."

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.