Monitor E-mail Reaches to Bandwidth-Limited Parts of the World

By: Steve Outing

If ever there was a newspaper that could benefit from the worldwide nature of the Internet, it's the Christian Science Monitor. The Boston-based newspaper publishes Monday-Friday daily editions, as well as a weekly overseas edition, covering domestic (U.S.) and international news. For its non-North American audience, the weekly edition may arrive as much as one or two weeks after publication.

Reaching potential readers in far-flung countries in a timely manner is the promise of the Internet, and the Monitor's advertising-supported, free-access Web site serves many countries. But a majority of Internet users in countries outside of the U.S. and well-wired parts of Europe do not have the option of tapping into the wealth of news and information on the World Wide Web, points out Dave Creagh, the Monitor's director of electronic publishing. The only way to reach them is via text-only e-mail -- and that will be the case for at least the next few years.

Thus, the Monitor later this month will launch its first e-mail edition, targeted at computer users around the world who lack Web access, or lack the bandwidth to access the Web at acceptable speeds. For $5 a month, Monitor e-mail subscribers can opt to receive any or all of eight sections of the paper. Each section is delivered separately and is lengthy -- a typical piece of Monitor subscription e-mail weighs in at around 30K or 15-20 typed pages, although a News In Brief section is only about one-third that size -- and contains all the articles in that section from the print edition.

Pushing, the easy way While other publishers are running to try out more sophisticated techniques to "push" content to Internet subscribers -- via HTML e-mail (Netscape's Inbox Direct program) or digital multimedia delivery methods (such as BackWeb, Intermind Communicator, Castanet, Pointcast and others) -- Creagh has opted to take the "low tech" road.

The target audience is English speakers who have e-mail accounts, in countries where bandwidth is a problem; it's not the North American audience, who are expected to continue to view the Monitor's Web site. Nor is the e-mail service targeted at people looking for a quick summary of world news. With the exception of the News In Brief section, the e-mail sections contain the full record of all stories that run in print. Likely subscribers will be people working in government and higher education, who in many non-industrialized nations are nearly the only ones currently with any form of Internet access.

Creagh says the e-mail service will look a bit like the Monitor's short-wave radio service that uses two transmitters positioned in the Eastern U.S. and the Pacific Islands to broadcast Monitor newscasts (during weekdays) to nearly every country on the planet.

Indeed, the short-wave service will be one of the principal marketing tools for letting far-flung Internet users know about the e-mail edition. Ads also will run in the Monitor's weekly overseas edition, and Creagh is considering placing ads in other international news publications.

If the Monitor gets 2,000 paying e-mail subscribers by mid-year, Creagh says he'll be satisfied. Setting up the e-mail edition has been a "modest investment ... in the low unit thousands," he says, and maintenance of the service once it's up and running will be minimal, since it's "semi-automated."

Sell it, and they will pay

Charter subscribers are being asked to pay for at least three months' service in advance, with no refunds. A full year of the service is $60, so there's no discount for taking out a longer subscription.

Subscription fees will be the primary revenue source, but the Monitor also is working on an advertising model. Creagh says he's been having discussions with an international airline that may sponsor the entire service. Text ad messages would accompany the outgoing e-mail sections. He still hasn't determined what to charge for text-only e-mail advertising, but thinks that the sponsorship model works better than selling traditional advertising slots, as is done on the Monitor Web site.

The e-mail edition uses a simple list manager server application, WebList from NetCreations, which the Monitor has modified to automate the process of mailing out the eight sections a day. Mail is sent after midnight, when the Monitor's "souped up" Sparc20 server is least busy. The different sections go out every 30 minutes, through 3:30 a.m. Should the service grow beyond what the in-house server can handle without affecting the Web site, Creagh says he'd consider contracting the delivery process out to a bulk e-mail provider.

Subscribers can interact with the Monitor e-mail service only by sending e-mail commands -- to turn off mail, subscribe to different sections, etc. This is counter to the advancing art of e-mail bulk delivery, since most new or rewritten e-mail list applications have easy to use Web interfaces to make things easier for subscribers. Creagh's reasoning for forgoing any sort of Web link (other than a way to sign up for the service from the Monitor's Web site) is simply that he's not targeting the Web-using public.

The e-mail service will limit itself to simple text e-mail for the immediate future, though Creagh thinks that in a couple years his servers will be pushing out HTML pages and audio files. But for now, for a publication that targets the entire globe, it's not the right time.

As for the Monitor Web site itself, Creagh reports that the site is about to get a redesign and soon will implement a mandatory registration scheme, similar to that used by the New York Times on the Web (which uses "cookies" to track users and doesn't require them to enter a password every time they visit the site). This offers the ability to target advertising and should allow the site to earn more in ad revenues. If we can tell a pantyhose advertiser that no men will see their ad, says Creagh, then we can charge more.

The Monitor Web site attracts about 20% of its traffic from outside the U.S.

Contact: Dave Creagh,

SND Web site home sought

The Society of Newspaper Design is in the process of selecting a permanent host for its Web site. SND, which has a temporary Web site operating currently, plans to offer event calendars, articles from SND publications, SND contest entry forms, online registration to SND events, and a database-driven job bank for newspaper graphics and design professionals.

The organization wants to have its new Web site hosted "within the industry," at a news organization or journalism school. If interested in bidding, contact Dave Gray, SND's executive director, at telephone 401-276-2100 or e-mail

Another BBS bites the dust

The Knoxville (Tennessee) News-Sentinel at the end of this month will shut down KnoxLink, its computer bulletin board service which was launched in September 1995. The Scripps-Howard newspaper also announced that it is the second in the chain to become a local Internet service provider in partnership with InfiNet, a national Internet company that works with the newspaper industry.

KnoxLink had as many as 3,000 users during its run, but manager of online publishing Jack Lail says that analysis of user preferences revealed that most people wanted Internet access rather than a local BBS service. Also, running the BBS was customer service-intensive, which took limited new media resources away from content, Lail says.

Contact: Jack Lail,


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This column is written by Steve Outing exclusively for Editor & Publisher Interactive three days a week. News, tips, and other communications may be sent to Mr. Outing at

The views expressed in the above column do not necessarily represent the views of the Editor & Publisher company


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