By: Steve Outing
My wife and I greeted our second child into the world last week (hence my abscence from writing this column), and I did what many a cyber-savvy new parent does these days: I put photos of our newborn daughter on the Web and sent e-mail to family and friends telling them how to see the pictures.
Alas, I am not so plugged in as to have a digital camera, so I was forced to take standard photographic prints to a local copy shop and scan them onto disk before assembling my Web page. I first called around town to see if any photo shops could take an unprocessed roll of film and put it directly to disk or CD-ROM for me, to speed the whole process. But that would have cost at least $35 and taken several days. A mail-order processor, Seattle Filmworks, could do it for a reasonable price, but it would take several days.
So I resorted to the tried and true route of getting paper prints made in an afternoon, then driving over to scan the best shots at a copy shop. The new-baby Web site was up in an afternoon.
I’m no Internet beginner and have my own Web site, so putting up the page was not a problem. But for the majority of parents, putting up even a simple Web page is going to be beyond their technical abilities. In the event that their Internet service providers allow them to create personal Web pages, getting the photos in digital form can still be a hassle — and potentially expensive. And therein lies an opportunity for news Web sites.
The modern birth announcement
Newspaper Web sites, in particular, can view new-baby Web pages as an extension of the ages-old newspaper birth announcement. At the hospital, we were presented with a form that would be sent to our local paper for a 3-line printed birth announcement. How boring.
As an alternative, newspaper Web sites can set up new-baby areas that permit new parents to post photographs of the newborn and write captions and text. Parents are given a URL to their personalized page, which they can send to relatives and friends.
On the baby page, visitors can be invited to post comments (the digital equivalent of sending a greeting card), which are posted with the page. (Parents will need the ability to delete messages, should someone play a prank and post something inappropriate.)
The key is to make the process simple, by creating a Web form interface that lets the parent create a Web page and visitors to post comments simply by filling in text fields. Photographs can be uploaded by the parents, if they have them in digital form, or the newspaper can offer a scanning service. Photos can be mailed to or dropped off at the newspaper office, where they are scanned in within 24 hours. (Quick turn-around is important for new parents; trust me on that one!) Scanned photos are uploaded to the Web into standard templates, and the parents are sent an e-mail note pointing them to their baby’s Web page. The page can be edited later by the parents using the Web form interface.
I’m convinced that this will be a popular service. Our relatives were excited to be able to see the newest family member so quickly, and we’ve been receiving a steady flow of e-mail congratulation notes.
I kept my baby page simple; it contained only photographs and text. Had I been less sleep-deprived and had more time, I might have put up a video clip of the baby — or an audio clip of her first sounds. (But, no, I’m not that compulsive.) As a service to parents, however, you may want to allow uploading of video clips into the baby area.
There are several options for supporting such a service — and turning it into a revenue generator. The most straight-forward would be to simply charge a flat fee for a baby Web page, which can include scanning of, say, two photos and six months’ publication before the page is automatically purged. (Alternatively, you can sell permanent family Web pages and charge a modest annual fee. Families are permitted to upload new photos and change their pages as they like.) Or, give pages away free, but charge for scanning photos.
A second option is to find a sponsor for the baby site, such as a toy store. Banners can accompany each page. A savvy store owner might create a link to purchase online a baby toy or flowers to be deliverd to the new parents, generating business from visitors to the baby page. There are lots of potential advertisers: diaper services, child furniture stores, pediatricians’ offices, etc.
Staffing such a service shouldn’t take more than one person. A news or advertising department clerk can have scanning and uploading photos as an additional duty. Most importantly, the process must be mostly automated, so parents can create and change their pages without requiring human help.
One newspaper site that already is doing something similar to what I have described is the Charlotte Sun-Herald in Port Charlotte, Florida. Its Baby Pages lets parents post photos of their offspring, and the operation is set up to permit parents to upload photos directly to the Web or photos can be digitally scanned for them. The Sun-Herald’s Web “self-publishing” system was created by an in-house programmer.
There’s no doubt that publishing family photos on the Web is going to be a huge business. Companies like Kodak are setting up new businesses around families posting personal photos on the Web. I predict that this will become a major new business and a big revenue generator in the next few years. Newspapers are well positioned to take advantage of this potentially significant Web revenue source.
Enough about birth; more on death
Before the birth of my daughter, I wrote a column, ironically enough, about obituaries on newspaper Web sites. That column brought this note from Andrea Panciera, editor of Projo.com, Web site of the Providence (Rhode Island) Journal-Bulletin:
“Yes! To obits on newspaper Web sites. We here at Projo.com have been providing them since our first incarnation as a Prodigy service in May 1995. They are among our most popular features, and, boy, if there is a technical problem with them, one obit is missing, or they don’t go back far enough to satisify a particular visitor, we hear about it.
“Obits have always been big in tiny Rhode Island, where so many people know each other, and the Journal has long aimed to publish all obits in the state and nearby Massachusetts. Thanks to a special programming effort, we carry all of them on our Web site, plus death news stories that appear on the obit page. They can be viewed from an OBIT file, or searched for through our simple search engine. We also pick up paid death notices as part of our online Classifieds.
“Yet this isn’t enough. We have been chastised for not making the obits more noticeable on the Web site, and not maintaining a long-term archive (which we don’t yet have for news). I had the feeling, however, that we were one of a few sites who actually did publish the obits. And we have several readers who ask us for births, which are scattered throughout the editions and infrequently published, as well as weddings and engagements, whose original photo-laden files have been a nightmare we have chosen not to experience yet!”
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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 email@example.com
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