WWW World News Today, one of a handful of independent start-ups trying to develop an Internet-based online news service, has given up after only a few months of operation -- showing just how difficult it can be to make it to profitability in the online news world if you don't have a deep-pockets corporation behind you.
The idea behind WWWWNT was to create an advertiser-supported, free alternative news service offering world news updates. The site offered "Headlines," "Business," "Front Page," "In Style," "News," "Sports," "Travel," "Variety," an editorial page, and "Ads Plus." Stories and features were dotted with graphics, illustrations, and maps. It appeared on numerous "Best of the Web" and "Pick of the Day" sites.
Build it (and offer it for free) and they will come would seem to be the motto for WWWWNT. In its farewell note to the Web (which has now been taken down), WWWWNT claimed to have more than 40,000 readers. It was not successful in attracting advertisers fast enough to survive start-up, however, and its founders rejected the idea of charging a subscription fee.
While the idea behind WWWWNT was nice from the consumer point of view -- a quick, free update of world news headlines whenever you want it -- the service had too much working against it. Foremost, some serious competitors -- CNN and USA Today -- are offering their superior Web news services for free (at least for a limited time). But it's also difficult to imagine that advertisers would find the service a compelling buy. WWWWNT by nature would attract a diverse, worldwide audience, making it of limited value to all but a handful of advertisers.
American Reporter struggles on
Meanwhile, the American Reporter is still publishing on the Internet after more than 100 daily issues. Edited by Joe Shea of Hollywood, California (the only full-time staff member), and staffed by working journalists, AR has a very different business model than WWWWNT: it relies on subscription revenue and fees paid by publishers to republish AR stories.
Subscriptions to AR are $10 per month for publications or individuals. At this time, the paid subscriptions -- Shea won't reveal how many he has -- are for email delivery 5 days a week. The AR Web site (part of the Newshare syndicate) is free, but will shift to paid access in the coming months. Shea says about 9,000 people have read AR on its Web site since the April 1995 launch.
While AR will appeal to individual readers, it also operates as a sort of Internet wire service. Any AR reader can republish an AR story by paying the quoted price that accompanies each article. Or, for $125 per week, a publication gets rights to republish any AR article. The latter is aimed at daily and weekly newspapers reliant on a small staff, with pricing that undercuts the traditional wire services.
Shea says he's had some success in selling those subscriptions to other Internet publishers, who are looking for quality news content. "An example would be Albion Monitor, a recent innovative start-up which offers some of our stories to subscribers to its Internet access service," Shea says.
AR began charging for its service on September 1, so it's too soon to know if the strategy will work. It currently has no advertisers and is not soliciting ads, but Shea says he will accept them.
AR is definitely a low-budget operation. Shea says he made practically no investments to get the business going. He publishes AR on a 386 PC and uses a basic Internet access account at Netcom. Shea's stable of writers, who have worked without pay until this month when AR began charging for subscriptions, share the profits based on their contributions.
AR's stories cover the globe, with an emphasis on investigative and analysis pieces. Occasionally, AR has scooped the major wire services.
Comparing American Reporter to WWWWNT, I like the AR business model and give it a good chance of succeeding. Shea is utilizing the off-hours talents of seasoned journalists -- like Bill Johnson, who recently retired from the Associated Press, and Steve Herman, a CBS Radio News stringer in Tokyo -- to create an alternative to the traditional wire services. As new entities pop up on the Internet looking for content, the market for AR's product is likely to grow.
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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 email@example.com