Partnerships at Core of Boston.com Strategy

By: Steve Outing

In this column and in my occasional conference presentations, I have talked about the need for newspapers to create partnerships and alliances in order to succeed online. That’s the core strategy of Boston.com, the new World Wide Web service recently launched by Boston Globe Electronic Publishing, Inc.

What the Globe has done, I think, is “taken the bull by the horns” and crafted multiple alliances with other media companies that otherwise might compete with the Globe’s online ambitions. Boston.com is a New England Web “megasite,” as it calls itself, bringing together the newspaper, several TV and radio stations, other local print publications and electronic ‘zines, and a variety of businesses, museums, libraries and community organizations. The concept is to bring the best local and regional Web pages together “under one roof,” making anything to do with Boston or New England easily accessible from one Web address. The service is free to Web users, supported primarily by advertising.

The Globe is definitely the core content provider of the service, even though “Globe” is not in the service’s name. When people think of Boston.com, they’ll likely think first of the newspaper. It’s the “crown jewel” of the online service, says Boston.com general manager Gina Maniscalco.

Each media partner is on its own in terms of content creation and generating revenues. And each partner “does what it does best,” says Maniscalco. That means that one of the TV partners might do a dynamite weather service that’s more timely than what the newspaper produces — and that’s fine, she says.

“The Internet changes the whole marketplace in terms of who’s competing with who,” says Maniscalco. “It changes the dynamic between television, radio and newspapers. We all can do what we do best.” In her view, the TV stations on Boston.com might create a service that’s great at presenting up-to-the-minute headlines. The Globe, meanwhile, will excel at offering in-depth coverage of issues and events. In fact, the Globe at present is not producing new news content for Boston.com; it’s repurposing material from the Globe newsroom for online presentation, plus adding live Associated Press feeds.

Media partnerships on Boston.com take a variety of forms, and each deal is a little different, Maniscalco says. Many of the partners already had their own Web sites and were invited to take part in Boston.com. Some sites have been transferred to the Boston.com server, while some remain on their existing servers and are mirrored. (For the latter, a site would have 2 addresses — the old one and a boston.com URL — pointing to the same pages.)

While each deal is different, many Boston.com partners pay for the privilege of being on the service and for their content to be placed on the Boston.com server. How much a partner makes depends on how successful it is in selling advertising, offering premium services that people will pay for, or creating an online sales vehicle. Boston.com will get a share of transactions that may come from the partners’ activities in the online selling area. It expects to partner with an online ticketing service in the future.

The Globe itself will try a variety of revenue-producing strategies beyond selling advertising. Maniscalco thinks the searchable archives of the Globe will bring in substantial revenues when they are launched on Boston.com early next year. Various enhanced classified ad strategies also are being considered.

Boston.com has a staff of 20 people, in addition to staff at each of the partner companies responsible for their content. Interestingly, only 4 of Boston.com’s employees came from the newspaper; the rest were new hires who do not have journalism backgrounds. Comments Maniscalco about the staff make-up: “We don’t want to recreate a newsroom online.”

Movin’ On

David Mill is now group online editor of the Mirror Group in London, publishers of the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Sunday People, Sporting Life, Weekender, and the Daily Record/Sunday Mail in Glasgow, Scotland, and co-owner of the Independent. Mill formerly was online editor for the Glasgow papers.

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

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