Newsprint Savings Present a Cyber Opportunity

By: Steve Outing

(Editor’s note: I am in Zurich this week for the Interactive Publishing ’96 conference, co-sponsored by Editor & Publisher (host of this column). I will be reporting on the presentations and activities at this excellent conference in my next few columns. Many of Europe’s (indeed, the world’s) movers and shakers in the interactive publishing business attend this conference, so I expect to have some interesting news to report. Stay tuned.)

Good news for print publishers

You may have noticed the Media column in this Monday’s New York Times, in which Iver Peterson reports on the declining cost of newsprint. From a high of $750 (U.S.) per metric ton, the cost to newspaper publishers has fallen to just under $500 a ton. That’s certainly good news to the industry, which has taken measures to cope with the high prices of the last two years by trimming staffs, trimming page size, excising whole sections, making press runs more efficient and stopping waste, and otherwise tightening the belt.

What will happen now, asks Peterson? Those he interviewed seem to suggest that these cost savings to newspapers will be short-term, and publishers are unlikely to feel so confident of continued low newsprint prices that they will enlarge their previously down-sized staffs or otherwise “loosen up.” The business environment for newspapers remains volatile, industry executives believe.

Still, there’s no doubt the industry is at least temporarily benefitting from the newsprint price turnaround. I would like to suggest that newspaper executives take some of the new-found money from newsprint savings and beef up their efforts in new media. Too many newspaper online ventures are under-funded, and really not much more than experimental operations by companies that are still at the “dipping the toe in the water stage.”

To any newspaper executives who may find that idea preposterous, I will merely encourage you to look at some of your future competition in the world of cyberspace — Microsoft and its “CityScape” online city guide service; America Online’s Digital City ventures; AT&T-funded CitySearch; online-only classifieds services (which are sprouting like mushrooms on the Internet, particularly in the employment area); new online offerings from telephone and cable companies; and on and on.

I chronicle the threats to the newspaper industry from cyber-competitors on a regular basis in this column, so there’s no need to repeat myself. Suffice it to say that the newsprint price situation creates an (at least temporary) situation where newspaper publishers have no excuse for not taking their Internet strategy seriously and sinking some money into beefing up the effort.

An exhaustive look at cyber-journalism

American Journalism Review writer J.D. Lasica has authored a comprehensive look at the state of cyber-journalism, called “Net Gain,” which is published in the November issue and also available on the magazine’s Web site. While trodding much familiar ground to those who have been immersed in the Internet for the last couple of years, the series presents a loud wake-up call to publishers about the importance of investing in the Internet as a publishing strategy. The series contains 14 essays, quoting many of the leaders in the interactive publishing and online newspaper fields.

Lasica hammers on the key point that newspaper publishers must understand about the Internet: This is a two-way medium, with readers (or users, in Internet parlance) who are eager to “talk back” to a previously unreachable media. Says Lasica, “As more newspapers set up shop on the Web, … culture clashes between reader and reporter are inevitable. A lot of built-in animosity and skepticism awaits journalists in cyberspace. … They want to talk to us. The question is, are we willing to listen?”

I enjoyed reading Lasica’s series and encourage you to take a look.

Online gift registry

Star Tribune Online, the Web service of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has nicely executed a good idea: an online gift registry. Anyone can use the service to tell the world what they would like for Christmas, their birthday, anniversary, wedding or any other occasion.

While Web users of the service can type in their custom gift requests, the service is tied in to advertisers, who get banners within the registration forms that users can select as desired gifts. A typical entry might contain a list of typed in gift suggestions from the user, plus include links to advertised products that the user has selected on the registration form.

The catalog/database started out with 45 retailers and 245 gifts, with more on the way, according to Star Tribune Online editor/manager Steve Yelvington. “You can describe the person for whom you’re buying, describe the occasion, set a price range, and get a computer-generated gift recommendation. Nifty,” he says.

Contact: Steve Yelvington stevey@startribune.com

Quotable

“If the Web of the near future becomes easier to use and more reliable — and it will — the sign-up rate may make the adoption rate of VCRs look downright pokey.”

–Benjamin Compaine, Bell Atlantic Professor of Telecommunications; chairman, Center for Information Industry Research, Temple University (in a recent posting to the online-news mailing list)

Steve

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at steve@planetarynews.com

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company

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Published: November 13, 1996

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