By: Dave Astor
Knight Ridder Digital’s (KRD) 27 Web sites, via its Real Cities Network, are currently unveiling identical lineups of games and 52 comics as part of an overall redesign.
The content is being managed by uclick, whose chief operating officer, Chris Pizey, thinks Knight Ridder may be the first major newspaper chain to standardize comics and games on the Web. “As far as I know, they’re the only one,” he said.
KRD is standardizing to save costs and as a first step toward developing a partial pay model. The plan is for the games and comics to remain free. But site visitors will soon be able to pay for many extra games and puzzles by joining “The Puzzle Society.” Then, probably this spring, visitors will also be able to pay for more comics or comics-related material.
Pizey said “The Puzzle Society” costs $3.95 a month or $29.95 a year. Annual subscribers get additional perks such as a newsletter and crossword dictionary.
“We’re trying to monetize the content and the audience beyond traditional banner advertising,” said Pizey, though there are some ads next to the games and comics. And uclick and KRD are hoping for more ads when the economy improves.
The comics and games — including “Dilbert,” “Doonesbury,” “For Better or For Worse,” “Garfield,” and “Jumble” — are from Universal Press Syndicate (a sibling firm to uclick), Tribune Media Services, and United Media. KRD Vice President for Content Services Ken Doctor said other syndicates might supply features, too.
New Quantities Of Comics Online
At one time, the site of Knight Ridder’s San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News offered about 100 comics — meaning visitors to what’s now BayArea.com are losing some content. But Pizey said many of the other KRD sites previously had fewer than 52 comics — in some cases, under a dozen.
“So this plan seems to give the visitor much more,” said “Cornered” creator Mike Baldwin, whose Universal comic is part of KRD’s package. “It’s good to see KRD finding a creative way to offer more in this ad-revenue-depressed market.” For fans of comics not in the package, he added, “it means another few clicks of the mouse.”
Tim Kelly, president and publisher of Knight Ridder’s Lexington (Ky.) Herald -Leader, is glad the sites will have many features. “I’ve always been a fan of comics and puzzles as a way to generate readership and page visits,” he said.
KRD sites may eventually allow visitors to design their own comics pages, as the Mercury News site used to allow.
Obviously, most KRD sites will have a different comics lineup than the print newspapers they’re connected with. Doctor doesn’t see this as a problem. “Users have come to expect that online and print products are not going to be exactly the same,” he said.
But Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram Senior Editor and Reader Advocate David House said different Web comics could confuse some readers. “It does create questions,” he said. “They’re looking for certain information on the site that’s in the newspaper and they don’t find it. They want to know why.”
A couple of interviewees did note that the KRD sites are partly city sites, not just online editions of newspapers.
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