Ask the Publisher: When the ink dries

Samantha Johnston
The Aspen Times
Samantha Johnston
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

About two weeks ago, I asked The Aspen Times audiences to support local journalism by making a donation. I had every expectation that responses would run the gamut from large donations to “how dare you, ya money grubbing for-profit pocket liners.” I wasn’t wrong, though I should point out that the latter was few and far between, for which I am grateful.

What I didn’t expect was more than a handful of readers to suggest that I spend some words explaining how the sausage is made in this business, and we even had a couple of readers provide a list of possible topics I should explore to explain why people should donate, but more importantly, how this business even works. And here I thought you’d never ask.

Each week until we’re all out of home jail or I run out of words, I’ll explain a different piece of our business model.

Where does the money come from?

Print and digital advertising

More than 90% of our annual revenue comes from businesses who advertise their products and services in our print (The Aspen Times, Snowmass Sun, Aspen Times Weekly, special publications and magazines) or digital platforms. These are the everyday advertisements for restaurant specials, event tickets, pet supplies, real estate, etc.

Commercial printing/pre-prints/inserts

We have several commercial printing customers who pay us to print their products such as real estate magazines, event programs, in-store sales materials and other custom printing jobs — some of which appears in the pages of our papers and some that don’t.

We also get revenue from what we call “pre-prints,” which are pre-printed materials from large retailers such as Target or Home Depot who print hundreds of thousands of sales materials and ship them to papers all over the country for distribution to readers in key markets.

Google surveys

These are those pesky questions that appear on stories you read in The Aspen Times. We know it can be annoying, but we feel like a small inconvenience for the price of “free” is juice that’s worth the squeeze. Google places those surveys on our websites for their clients and they pay us based on the number of legitimate (they determine the parameters for that) responses they receive. While the revenue isn’t a huge dollar value, it represents more than a part-time position for The Aspen Times annually.


We sell a few mailed subscriptions of The Aspen Times Weekly and Snowmass Sun that generates a couple thousand dollars a month, but mostly covers postage and our other hard costs.


Before COVID-19, we also were beginning to host some events in conjunction with longstanding traditions such as Best Of and some newer projects such as Longevity. These events represent less than 1% of our annual revenue, but every dollar counts.


We occasionally sell our photos, but this amounts to less than $500 annually. Typically, we sell them when people purchase them from our website and we also get requests from marketing companies to use a photo in their marketing materials. We always provide photos at no cost to nonprofits or businesses who are promoting goods and services offered by others in the community, but occasionally charge when our work will be used to generate profit for a for-profit business.

Sounds like an incredible business model, right? And we sound like a regular for-profit, right? Except for that little part where we give our proprietary work away for free every single day. Anyone in the world who wants to read the content in our newspaper can do so at no cost anytime, from anywhere. And while it’s easy to suggest that perhaps we just charge for the paper like other markets do, we recognize that in a town driven largely by visitors and tourism, our advertisers have fewer eyeballs on their ads if we lock them behind a subscription.

If there’s a topic you’d like to know more about, let me know. Email or call 720-412-4240.

Samantha Johnston is the publisher of The Aspen Times.