A Worldly View of Newspaper Interactive Publishing

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By: Steve Outing

It occurs to me in looking back at recent columns that I’ve been a bit too U.S.-centric. Allow me to remedy that today by reporting on a number of online news publishing developments internationally.

German tabloid hooks ’em with contests and sex

German newspaper Bild Zeitung launched its flashy new Web site a few weeks ago, and it’s already the most visited Web server in Germany, apparently. It’s not hard to see why: sex and the chance to win money online are drawing in hordes of computer users.

Bild is the largest newspaper in Europe, with a circulation of 4.5 million daily. Bild is a familiar product to Europeans, but not a household name elsewhere in the world. It’s sort of a cross between USA Today and the New York Post, according to Felix Grabowski of the Detroit News, who worked as a consultant on the Bild Web site. It’s a tabloid-style daily with screaming headlines, sensational stories, a pin-up of the day, etc., which relies exclusively on street sales for its circulation.

Bild’s Web site is aimed at the German market, but some English translation of the more interesting features is provided. I encourage you to take a visit; it’s quite unlike most any other newspaper online site you’ve ever seen, and thus worth your attention.

Contests are a big part of the site and the reason it’s become so popular so quickly. The newspaper’s content makes up only about one-fourth of the Web site, with lots of original content designed to entertain online viewers. A large portion of the site is devoted to interactive games and contests where users can win substantial cash prizes. Games include:
* A Bingo game giving away 10,000 DM every three weeks.
* A Shockwave “slot machine” giving away 1,000 DM a week.
* A Java crossword puzzle giving away 600 DM a week (in a lottery among solvers).
* And a Shockwave Soccer game giving away 1,000 DM a week.

“Some of these are multi-user implementations with players competing against each other online for the best score,” reports Grabowski. “Prize money is committed through 1996, including 250,000 DM (about $164,000 U.S.) for Bingo alone. Additional games are also featured, as well as moderated chat areas, an extensive soccer info area (timed for the start of the European Soccer Championships) and other content exclusive to their online product.”

The other wildly popular feature is Bild’s “Dream Girls,” daily nude photos of women; Web visitors vote for who they think is the prettiest, and the winner goes on to compete in subsequent online contests.

This is not high-minded journalism, but it appears to be working in attracting users and advertisers. (The site is free access to all.) The site also captures the “boulevard personality,” as Grabowski says, of the print product while taking advantage of what the interactive medium has to offer. If Joe Bob were here, he’d say, “Check it out.”

Contacts: Michael Bogdahn, Web project leader, mibo@bild.de
Felix Grabowski, felixg@detnews.com

Role of the U.K. regionals

The Newspaper Society in the U.K. recently held a strategy forum, jointly organized by Coopers & Lybrand, on “The Role of the Regionals (newspapers) in the Digital Future.” The forum concluded:

* By the year 2020, a local newspaper will be a combination of a paper-based product, an online information system, accessed via the Internet, and a subscription service accessed via television — rather than one of the three.

* The greatest long-term threat to the newspaper industry is online services, followed by cable TV.

* Regional press journalists don’t have the skills to present TV or radio news items.

* And, the Internet definitely is an attractive commercial proposition for regional publishers.

That summary comes courtesy of U.K. new media consultant Colin Brannigan, who comments, “Who can possibly even attempt to forecast a quarter of a century ahead? I will be 83 (I should live that long) by the year 2020! The speed with which the Internet and online services are moving convinces me that the regionals need to address the immediate and medium term rather than bravely try to look ahead a quarter of a century. It’s the here and now which is really important and how you respond. When I visited the San Diego Union-Tribune in 1994, they showed me where they were that year, where they expected/intended to be in 1995, and where they would be by 1999. U.K. regional publishers are way behind the U.S., which is perfectly understandable given that the Internet began in the U.S., but few, if any, could honestly lay claim to having a similarly clear vision of where they expected/intended to be in 1999 let alone 2020.”

Contact: Colin Brannigan, brannigan@dial.pipex.com

Online publishing in Italy

The Media & New Media project at Bocconi University in Milan recently conducted a survey on electronic publishing in Italy. Project leaders from 56 online publications (11 newspapers) were interviewed by phone. Here are some highlights of the results, which were presented at a conference held on June 19, as reported by Andreina Mandelli of the Media & New Media project:

* 87% of the publications have been online for less than 14 months.

* Only 30% of the respondents said that one of the reasons for going online was “income,” and 91% of them stated that their publishers considered their Internet activities to be promotional investment.

* Only 2% of these publications sell content and 2% sell both content and advertising. None is supported only by advertising income.

* Only 9% of the sites have content developed ad hoc for the Internet. 37% put on the Web exactly the same content they have in the paper version. The others do both.

* 18% use online polls. 17% use discussion forums.

* 43% of the sites allow the public to send e-mail messages to the newsroom, but only in 4% of cases may the messages be sent to specific journalists.

Contact: Andreina Mandelli, mandelli@mktgsda.inet.it

News from Mexico

Homero Hinojosa wrote in urging that I include more coverage of the online news publishing scene in Mexico. “In Mexico there is a boom on newspaper publishing in the Internet,” he says, “with up to 25 newspapers already on the Net. Other countries, like Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, are also taking seriously having a space on the Net. Two good sites to look at the growing population in Latin America are: http://www.mundolatino.org/per ilat.htm and http://www.eng.usf.e du/~palomare/newspapers.html.

“Latin American newspapers have discovered that they can serve their nationals who live in the U.S. This creates a better sense of community and connectness than just making expensive long-distances calls, sending 1-month (and uncertain) mail delivery and 2-day-after newspaper delivery brought by international airlines. Now, those nationals educated in the U.S. can influence the local public opinion in their countries with forums as La Nacion de Costa Rica is doing.”

Fast Internet growth in the Philippines

The first Internet World conference will take place in the Philippines from September 23 to 26, marking the emergence of that nation as a player in the Internet publishing community. Conference manager Yu Ming Chin reports that the Internet business in his country has grown approximately 3,000% in the last two years. The Internet World Philippines ’96 conference is being produced by SequelNet and Mecklermedia.

Contact: Yu Ming Chin, ymc@uap.edu.ph

Holiday column schedule

Due to the Independence Day holiday in the U.S., there will be no Friday Stop The Presses! column this week. And I’m taking an additional vacation day next Monday. The next column will run on Wednesday, July 10.

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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at steve@planetarynews.com

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