InfiNet Casts Off Its Content Side

By: Steve Outing

InfiNet, the private-label Internet service provider (ISP) that serves the U.S. newspaper industry, is refocusing its business — and in the process casting off several content offerings, including its popular Cool Site of the Day service.

InfiNet is the ISP and Internet publishing tools company jointly owned by media companies Knight-Ridder, Gannett and Landmark Communications. It serves as a private-label ISP for newspapers (and a couple TV stations) in more than 70 U.S. markets, and has business relationships with about 140 newspapers, who pay InfiNet to host their Web sites and/or use InfiNet’s Web site publishing tools.

The company also has operated an electronic publishing group — in effect, the Web content side of the company — with 8 employees. But the group was shut down on January 1, and some of InfiNet’s content sites are now on the auction block.

The original

The Cool Site of the Day is the most notable site in InfiNet’s content stable. It originated during InfiNet’s early days, before the current media company owners purchased what was a small ISP in Norfolk, Virginia, which was to become InfiNet. Indeed, InfiNet’s “Cool Site” was the first in what now is a crowded field of “best Web site” pointer services. InfiNet holds a service mark on “Cool Site of the Day.”

According to InfiNet president Bob Gilbert, the Cool Site site generates about 30,000 page impressions per day, and is supported by advertising. He acknowledges that the “Best of” genre of Web sites has gotten more competitive, but says the service has not shrunk in traffic and has a loyal following of readers. Its annual Cool Site of the Year award is widely known and much coveted by Web site designers.

Also looking to be sold is InfiNet’s Live Online Web site, which is a guide to online entertainment. This is a fairly new site that was just beginning to emerge and to date has a modest audience.

A third InfiNet content offering is Bytesized Greetings, an “irreverant” digital greeting card service that offers up current-events-related as well as traditional-topic cards. Visitors to the site choose a “greeting card,” then write a personal message to their recipient, who receives an e-mail message with a URL and passcode to view their private card on the Web. Gilbert says the Bytesized site will be retained by InfiNet, and probably restructured for use by InfiNet’s newspaper affiliates as a Web site enhancement.

Of the InfiNet employees who worked on these sites, 3 were moved to other parts of the company and 4 were laid off. One position was unfilled at the time the electronic publishing department was shut down. Overall, InfiNet employs 209 people.

Let’s refocus

Gilbert says the move to shut down the content side of the company was “purely a matter of focus.” InfiNet provides a range of behind-the-scenes services to newspaper Internet operations and hasn’t focused on the content business adequately to make it a serious profit center. Only one advertising sales person was assigned to the content sites, for example.

For 1998, the company will focus on enhancing its customer care operation, which serves as a dedicated support service for customers using InfiNet’s access service under newspaper affiliates’ brand names. When a newspaper Internet customer calls an InfiNet toll-free number for customer or technical support, InfiNet’s staff answers with the newspaper’s name.

Gilbert says that in the year ahead the company plans to beef up its sales staff in an effort to add more affiliate newspapers to its customer stable. The last year saw the company emphasize getting more business out of its existing affiliate base, by selling its high-end hosting services and Web site products (such as its online classifieds product, and online archiving system from MediaStream, another Knight-Ridder company; InfiNet handles the billing for the MediaStream archiving systems used by InfiNet affiliates).

About one-third of its customers are newspapers not affiliated with one of InfiNet’s three media owners. For now, the company will stick to the U.S. market, though Gilbert doesn’t rule out expanding to foreign markets at some unknown future date. He says the company will continue to work almost exclusively with newspapers.

The Internet access business continues to provide the majority of InfiNet’s revenues, with the hosting business growing rapidly behind it. Gilbert says that a recent J.P. Morgan analysis of the ISP industry determined that InfiNet is the largest private-label ISP in the U.S., although Gilbert declines to provide a total number of ISP customers from all of his newspaper affiliate ISP operations. InfiNet doesn’t like to advertise itself as a national presence, preferring to defer promotion to the local newspaper level, Gilbert says.

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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