Indianapolis Papers' Internet Strategy

By: Steve Outing

The latest addition to the online services stable at the Indianapolis Star and News left the gate last week. It's called Indiana's Game and is a site devoted to basketball -- specifically, the Indiana Hoosiers and Purdue Boilermakers college teams and the NBA's Indiana Pacers. The site features news and columns from the newspapers, interactive discussion forums, schedules, an area devoted to other local college and high school basketball, and general news from the Big Ten and the NBA.

Indianapolis Newspapers is taking an intelligent approach to Internet publishing. It kicked off several months ago with a service devoted to auto racing called SpeedNet, capitalizing on the region's most visible pasttime (Indianapolis is home to the Indy 500 auto race). It also is building a more comprehensive online newspaper service, Star-News Online which for now offers a "5-minute digest" of news, sports and weather aimed at Indianans, and links to the SpeedNet and Indiana's Game sites.

While many newspaper Web sites include niche features, I see most publishers just promoting the main service rather than the components separately. Consider that the Star-News promotes SpeedNet and Indiana's Game as if they were separate services. Rather than SpeedNet being one piece of Star-News Online, it is marketed as its own entity, for example. Online services editor Jay Small says that SpeedNet has a potential audience extending nationally -- people for whom the Star-News brand name has no meaning, but SpeedNet does.

The niche sites are funded primarily by advertising, but that is not the main source of Internet-based income for the newspapers. Small says the real revenue potential is coming from building Web sites for third parties -- often companies that have seen what the newspapers have done and called to ask Small to do something similar for them. Several recent clients for the newspaper's Web design/construction shop have been companies that already had Web sites, but wanted someone to "take them to the next level," Small says.

In addition to earning revenues for Web site construction, the newspapers also host businesses' sites on the Star-News server, and charge fees for links to a business' site on the various newspaper online areas. Small says in the future, income also will come from some premium services, such as searching the newspapers' archives online, although the bulk of the content of the newspapers' Web sites is likely to remain free.

The Indianapolis online staff currently numbers 6, but Small expects to add staff to support the Web site construction business soon. The Web sites themselves have had modest usage, but the trend has continued sharply upward, Small says. The sites were getting about 13,000-14,000 server hits a day last week; 2 days after the Indiana Games site launched, that figure was up to about 20,000. Marketing of the sites has been modest and much of the effort has been through word of mouth and notifying various Internet communities, Small reports.

Smallest e-newspaper in Texas

The cost of a "printing press" on the Internet being so cheap, any size newspaper can launch its own Web site. Surely one of the smallest just launched: the Round Top Register in Round Top, Texas, USA (population 81). The site is still under construction, but go take a look. Editor Christopher Travis has put up the beginnings of an interesting site, filled with quirky prose that might appeal to more than 81 people.


A recent discussion thread on the online-news Internet list dealt with subscription models for online newspaper services. It was pointed out that few households subscribe to more than a single copy of a newspaper; families share a single copy. So, how might single vs. multiple subscriptions play out in the online realm? Ray Niemeir, president, Abstract Machine Tool Inc., offered this thoughtful posting:

"If multiple computers per family and household LANs become common (as I think they will), what does this do to the ability to offer acceptable subscription-based pricing to general interest online newspapers?

"Does each family member need a separate subscription and access ID? (Security folks and demographers will not be happy if multiple family members share a single ID.) Is the price per ID or per family? What's a family? Can a fraternity or office share an online subscription like they do a hardcopy subscription?

"The network addresses used by household members may also vary widely -- from a single address mapped by a Network Address Translating (NAT) router serving several machines to unrelated dynamic adressses assigned to portables. Can I read my online home paper during my break at work? Can the kids browse the online Wall Street Journal?

"Now, I'm admittedly a technical guy -- but I tell my journalist friends that if they get to express opinions on object-oriented databases and multi-user computers, then I get to hold forth on news marketing strategy: It looks to me like subscription based pricing for general interest online newspapers is a difficult concept to define and implement in light of clear-cut technology trends."

Steve Got a tip? Let me know about it

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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

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