E&P Members Network Exemplifies Mixed Revenue Model

By: Steve Outing

Often in this space I write about revenue models for online publishers' World Wide Web sites. Today I'd like to tell you about the Editor & Publishers Members Network, a new Web service from E&P (which hosts and pays for publication of this column). Like the publishers that it serves with its Web site covering interactive publishing, E&P too is experimenting with different revenue models designed to support the existence of its online industry resources. While I can't help but try to "sell" you on the Members Network, I will try to keep the hype to a minimum and take a look at the revenue model behind the venture as well.

Editor & Publisher Interactive has been operating on the Web since last summer, offering up this column, selected news from the pages of E&P magazine, interactive publishing coverage found only online, a comprehensive database of online newspaper services worldwide, conference listings, research sources, etc. The site has been free-access, supported by sponsorships of the site.

E&P Members Network takes a different approach by charging a subscription fee ($95 per year) for access to premium content not currently on the E&P free site. The free E&P site remains intact; what you get access to now for free will for the most part continue to be free.

Benefits of paid service

Here's what you get for your subscription fee that you won't get on the free site:

* Access to a searchable database of Editor & Publisher magazine articles dating back to 1988. Previously, that was only available by paying to do a search on Nexis-Lexis.

* Access to a search engine that also covers articles from E&P Interactive, my Stop The Presses! column (dating back to August 1995), and industry-related Web sites and discussion forums. E&P has created a targeted search engine that just looks in relevant Internet resources for information you seek. For instance, the search engine will comb Web sites like those of the Poynter Institute, Simba Media Daily, Newspaper Association of America, Advertising Age Online and Interactive Week, plus the archive of the online-news Internet mailing list. "The idea is to provide an integrated search for all those sources that we think are the best for newspapering and new media," says E&P vice president for new media Martin Radelfinger.

(A note about my column: The most recent week's columns will always be available on the free site, but access to the archive of columns will require subscription access to the Members Network.)

* An "IP Resources" area that is continually updated by E&P's research department. This section includes "E&P's Bookmarks," a compilation -- which is refreshed frequently -- of new newspaper online sites, content alliances involving newspapers, etc. An "Industry Watch" section provides an intelligence report -- again, updated frequently -- of interactive publishing ventures outside of the newspaper industry worth keeping an eye on. This includes Web-only publications; cyber publications; online business sites; non-newspaper news sites; classified, advertising and job listings online services; and entertainment sites. Also included is the most extensive set of links in the industry to resources for journalists and new media professionals.

* Online-only editorial coverage of the interactive publishing scene from correspondents in Europe and Latin America, as well as the U.S. This content will not be published in E&P magazine nor on the free E&P Interactive Web site.

* The "E&P News Pool" area features the latest news about newspaper new media, augmented by an innovative "agent" feature that allows users to receive, via email, news pertinent to their interests. Members Network subscribers can configure the agent to monitor incoming information streams from the Internet and email them matching data. It can be used to receive an email-delivered edition of the Stop The Presses! column, for instance. The intelligent agent technology, pioneered by E&P's partners in the Members Network, The Internet Company and Personal Library Software, is currently being installed on the E&P site and should be ready for use within the next two weeks.

* One of the more interesting aspects of the Members Network service is dynamically inserted advertising and news briefs, which are presented as "headers" and "footers" to selected content. A search on the site for "pre-press" and "HTML," for instance, might return a page with a dynamically inserted ad from a vendor who has purchased an advertising slot whenever a subscriber searches for "pre-press," according to Radelfinger. Likewise, some keywords used in searches will bring up -- in addition to the normal search results -- highlighted news briefs that alert you to the latest news. For example, that same "pre-press / HTML" search might bring up the latest article from E&P about a relevant Quark XPress extension recently announced.

* An augmented Online Newspaper Services Resource Directory. The most comprehensive listing of newspaper industry new media ventures has been updated by E&P's Research department, which has added hundreds of new newspaper online services to the database in recent weeks. This database has been available as a free-access Web service and will continue to be free. Members Network subscribers, however, will have access to additional data fields for the entries that are not available to users of the free service. This will include more information about advertising and sponsorships, says Radelfinger.

* Proprietary research. Members Network subscribers will get access to results of E&P's interactive publishing research, including the U.S. interactive newspapers survey (previously conducted by The Kelsey Group).

* Industry forums. E&P Members Network also will feature Web-based discussion forums, using NetGenesis' NetThreat software, focusing on specific sub-topics of interactive publishing. The first discussion forums focus on new media jobs and new business models for attracting younger readers. Soon, moderated forums will be added dealing with online advertising and classified ads. The free E&P Interactive site also will soon add Web-based forums.

The strategy

E&P has chosen to continue to offer a lot of information free to non-subscribers, in a model being tried elsewhere in the newspaper new media industry. As many publishers have discovered themselves, this approach is absolutely critical if you expect to get enough traffic at your Web site to make it attractive to advertisers. Strict subscriber-only Web services typically don't work -- even on vertical-market sites.

An additional benefit for E&P Members Network subscribers is a discount to E&P's conferences, including the annual Interactive Newspapers conference to be held next February in Houston. The discount will more than make up for the annual price of a Members Network subscription.

This is a nice strategy that can be applied at any site that's trying to get a subscription fee out of its users. If through cross-promotions you can offer a prospective online customer something of perceived equal or greater value, there's less reason not to pay the subscription fee. An online newspaper service could employ this strategy by offering a 10% discount on classified ad placements in the print product for customers who maintain a premium-service Web subscription, for instance.

An advertising resource

Radelfinger also emphasizes that the E&P Members Network is meant as a resource to the advertising community as well as the newspaper industry. E&P Research has begun collecting advertising and sponsorship information for newspapers' interactive ventures, which will be utilized by ad agencies. For this reason, he urges anyone responsible for a newspaper new media service to update their listings with E&P or submit a new one. This can be accomplished easily by filling out a Web update form.

The E&P Interactive site (free-access) also serves as an effective advertising vehicle for those companies wishing to reach the newspaper new media and advertising communities. In addition to the dynamically placed ads in the E&P Members Network (mentioned above), sponsorships are available on the free E&P Interactive site. E&P vice president Dennis O'Neill says the site has begun having success attracting sponsors who need to target this vertical market. Companies wishing to sponsor the E&P Web services should contact O'Neill at 212-675-4380.

Contacts: Martin Radelfinger, martinr@mediainfo.com
Dennis O'Neill, denniso@mediainfo.com

NAA's paid forums criticized in Quill article

The Newspaper Association of America, which operates a service similar to the E&P Members Network called the New Media Federation, was the target of a critical article in The Quill by Chris Feola, who took the organization to task for offering as part of its membership service discussion forums that were only open to paying Federation members. Feola suggested that many newspaper new media professionals already take part in free online discussion forums like the online-newspapers mailing list (which I administer). It doesn't seem right, he suggested, for the NAA to require a subscription fee ($125 per year for the Federation) to take part; such a practice misses the true spirit of the Internet and the free flow of information and two-way communication that it fosters.

Since the E&P Members Network similarly has some discussion forums that are restricted to paying subscribers, you don't have to stretch your imagination to see that it too could face the same criticisms. E&P vice president Martin Radelfinger, who heads up the company's Web efforts, says that the restricted discussion forums on the Members Network will focus on narrow topics within the broader field of interactive communications. The jumping-off point for the discussions will be E&P's exclusive coverage of key industry developments (as well as E&P conference panels and presentations). And some forums will be moderated by industry experts or vendor representatives.

"The underlying idea behind the forums," says Radelfinger, "is that of a virtual professional community that exchanges information year round and physically meets at our conferences," with the exchange involving interaction between conference speakers and attendees.

These restricted forums are not meant to replace the public discussion forums such as the online-news and online-newspapers lists, and other mailing lists and newsgroups on the topics of journalism and new media. What they will do, Radelfinger suggests, is provide an intimate exchange between Members Network subscribers and industry experts that may not be so easily found in the larger public forums.

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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 outings@netcom.com


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