Knight-Ridder, Zip2 Respond to Sidewalk Threat

By: Steve Outing

Statements by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates this week to newspaper editors implied that they shouldn’t fear his company’s Sidewalk local online entertainment guides. Few publishers are buying that line, and newspapers are responding by creating local online entertainment guides of their own.

Knight-Ridder (K-R) today is soft-launching its Sidewalk-like online entertainment guide, called JustGo. Using technology developed by Zip2, the first JustGo entertainment guide site will serve the Bay Area of California and be operated by the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times newspapers, both K-R properties.

(You can visit the JustGo site by finding a link on the Mercury Center Web site. A permanent address for the site — http://www.justgo.com/bayarea — was not functional as of yesterday, though it may be as you read this.)

The JustGo guides “are our effort to beat Microsoft to the punch,” says Bill Skeet of Knight-Ridder New Media in San Jose. The Bay Area guide will be operating and getting up to speed in the next three weeks, with a formal launch scheduled in late May. Next up is the St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer-Press, followed by the Philadelphia newspapers and the Miami Herald; eventually all K-R papers that operate Web sites will add the JustGo entertainment guide service. Skeet says the timeline for rollout for JustGo is to implement it in 15 or more markets within the next year. If that schedule can be kept, it’s a more aggressive timetable than Microsoft has set for launching its Sidewalk guides in various cities.

The newspaper company has felt the pressure to enter the Bay Area online entertainment guide market in a big way to compete against online city guides already in place. The San Francisco region already has guides from CitySearch, Pacific Bell (At Hand), and Yahoo! San Francisco. Sidewalk is coming to the Bay Area but has not launched yet.

In other Knight-Ridder markets, the threat looms. “We want to make sure that our newspapers are secure before the (competition) comes in,” says Skeet.

Revenue sharing deal

The JustGo service is part of Zip2’s A&E product, an arts and entertainment service template that is operated as a partnership between Zip2 and newspaper publishers. The product is customized for each publisher, and Zip2 is paid a set-up fee, neglible monthly charges, and a share of between 20% and 50% of advertising revenue generated on the site, according to Zip2 founder and director of product marketing Kimbal Musk.

The revenue model for the service is primarily advertising based. Musk explains that the newspapers’ sales force will be selling local businesses placements in the entertainment guides as well as directory listings in Zip2’s local online business directory service (an existing product launched last year). Unlike the directory, not every entertainment-oriented business will get a free listing in the entertainment guide — though they can be listed free, say in a directory of restaurants, if they ask.

Businesses such as restaurants and theaters can purchase enhanced listings, which might include an online menu, photos of the restaurant, coupons, etc. There’s also a fax service that a restaurant can use (for a price, of course) to accept reservations over the Internet. A consumer using the entertainment guide would make a reservation by filling out a Web form, and Zip2 sends a fax to the restaurant. When the restaurant faxes back a confirmation, the Zip2 system converts the fax to a GIF image and notifies the user that it can be viewed on a unique Web page. Restaurants also can pay to be a “featured venue” on a restaurant guide page. (These are identified as being advertisements.)

The service, like Sidewalk, has a nice e-mail notification service that consumers can use to be alerted when a favorite performer or artist is coming to their towns. Registered subscribers use a Web form to fill out a personal configuration screen and specify their interests. Musk says that publishers can support this service by selling advertisements that accompany the personal e-mail notifications.

At K-R, as the JustGo service is being set up, a team of temporary workers is putting into the system many of the archived entertainment reviews of movies and restaurants, to build up a good base of content. Once this initial burst of work is done, says Skeet, the service will be easier to maintain.

National + local content

Knight-Ridder and Zip2 also are negotiating with national providers who will contribute content that can be shared among all Zip2 A&E partners — such as movie theater showtimes from a company that provides listings for movie houses throughout the U.S.

Local listings are input by clerks at the newspapers using a Web form, which puts the information into a large database. Musk says that the database has been designed to share content among other A&E partners who agree to share their data. Thus, K-R’s properties can share content they maintain in the database, while it’s not available to other publishers also using the A&E entertainment guide system.

What consumers can’t do yet with the Zip2 system is actually order tickets online, but Musk says that will be operational within two months. The technology is in place, he says, but establishing relationships with the relevant ticketing companies takes time.

Zip2 and Knight-Ridder have launched one of the first serious challenges to companies like Microsoft, Digital City and CitySearch that have created serious competition to newspaper entertainment sections — in print and online. It will be interesting to see if newspaper brand loyalty and recognition will give Zip2’s partner publishers a significant advantage in attracting online users.

In addition to K-R, Zip2 is partnered with New Century Network, Landmark Communications, Media General, and newspapers in the McClatchy and Scripps Howard chains.

Contact: Kimbal Musk, [email protected]

1 million e-mail subscribers!

E-mail newsletter TipWorld this week announced that it has grown to 1 million subscribers in just one year. TipWorld is published by PC World’s Online Services Group, and broadcasts free daily e-mail newsletters to subscribers who choose from among 18 topics, such as Windows 95, Netscape Navigator, Bug Reports, Cool Web Sites, Shareware Picks, etc. The newsletters include computer tips, news and gossip. They are supported by advertising — on the TipWorld Web sign-up pages and text ads on the e-mail newsletters themselves.

TipWorld’s success demonstrates the power of e-mail publishing. The electronic newsletters are reaching 1 million people per day, which by any measure is a pretty nice advertising vehicle. The message to Web publishers is obvious: Don’t forget to add e-mail as part of your Internet publishing strategic mix.

Mining Company reaction

My recent column about The Mining Company brought reaction from some of the site’s “guides.” David Curle, the guide for the Swedish Culture page, writes:

“I found it surprising that you even think of the role of the guides as a journalists’ role. I never thought of the role that way, but of course there is a form of journalism in the weekly essay. The word ‘guide’ was an appropriate one, I think, that more closely defines what these psuedo-journalists do.

“… The Web has been filled with content provided by such amateurs for several years now … most of them working on their own. The Mining Company just puts a couple hundred of them under one roof; there is nothing new about what the guides are doing.”

Durant Imboden, who does the Venice for Visitors page for Mining Company, writes:

“In your column, you differentiate between the ‘professional journalism’ of, say, traditional newspapers and the ‘passionate amateur’ journalism at The Mining Company. Although I’m a professional writer and a former editor at Playboy, I can’t help thinking that your distinction between ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ is a bit artificial. Is a 23-year-old news reporter at the Podunk Press-Advocate more ‘professional’ than, say, a nurse and La Leche League Webmistress who produces a Mining Company site on breastfeeding? The one is paid for having a journalism degree; the other is paid for subject knowledge and online experience. In the end, it’s the finished product that counts.”

Mining Company frames controversy

The Mining Company has caused some controversy by its use of a Web page “frame” — a thin horizontal window with Mining Company navigation buttons that always appears at the top of a page even when a visitor clicks on a link to a third-party Web site. The company has issued this formal statement responding to the criticisms leveled against it:

“There is no legal action against The Mining Company (over the framing issue). We have addressed this with several media companies that are suing Total News (http://www.totalnews.com) and they are fine with our approach. We are making a good service for users and not selling ads within the frame whenever third-party content is pointed to.

“Also, we are not intentionally suppressing the normal URL display. Quite simply and honestly, it is a bug in our ‘TIPS’ application that causes the status field to be blurred. It is based on some Java that has been programmed and is not working properly at this point in time. Therefore, we have opted to rip that application out until we can fix the bug, which will probably occur sometime next week.

“We have total respect for intellectual property. We are in the original intellectual property business ourselves. We are a very young company and are learning and growing everyday as we implement new things and make discoveries and get feedback from users.”

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 [email protected]

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

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