Monitor Web Site Will Serve Up Radio News on Demand

By: Steve Outing

Visit the Christian Science Monitor's Web site when it is expected to launch next month, and you'll have a choice: read the printed word on screen, or listen to the spoken word. The Monitor will be offering radio news on demand by publishing its Monitor Radio newscasts on the Web in RealAudio format, in addition to offering more traditional Web news coverage from the newspaper's correspondents.

The Monitor is in an enviable position, since it produces news in the print and broadcast worlds -- and both can make the transition to cyberspace. Once the site is up and running, Monitor Radio's 24-hour-a-day, on-the-hour news summaries will be available on demand. Imagine not having to remember to turn on the radio on the hour for a news update during the day, but simply going to the Web and clicking on the broadcast -- hearing it when you want. I think this will be a much-used feature of the site.

The Monitor's electronic publishing manager, Dave Creagh, a veteran of National Public Radio's "All Things Considered," says that the Monitor's daily news radio show also will be on the Web site, with each story broken out into a separate audio file. No need to remember to listen to the show; just surf the Web and click on the stories you want.

You may recall that the Monitor used to have its own television show, which was killed off a while back. Creagh says the Monitor still has the video archives of those news programs, which might be used on the Web site at some point.

Creagh and his staff of four are currently busy preparing for the official launch of the Monitor's site, which is expected to be in mid April. The general site is locked down from public viewing during beta testing, but will be available free to the public after launch. Creagh intends to build public awareness and a sizable audience during the first few months of service, then begin charging a monthly fee for access to the full site. The strategy, while not completely nailed down yet, is similar to that of the San Jose Mercury News and others: Offer a reasonable amount of good content for free, but charge for the good stuff. And, of course, advertising will represent the bulk of the site's income.

What ends up being free and what is included only with a monthly fee is still under discussion, but archives are certain to cost something. And so, Creagh says, will the answers to the daily crossword.

The Web site will contain newspaper- and radio-generated news content and some (as yet unannounced) original online-only content, as well as interactive discussion forums, archives, and Associated Press content. It will contain virtually all of the newspaper's daily content.

Creagh also is planning to offer up a text-only email edition of the Monitor's top stories, for a fee. The Monitor's daily print edition is distributed primarily in the U.S. and Canada, and most overseas subscribers get only the weekly edition which arrives usually one week late. For Africa, the Monitor does not deliver its print edition at all. This represents an appealing opportunity for the Monitor to reach out -- electronically -- to new audiences.

Email delivery is especially important for reaching into regions of the world where bandwidth is not cheap. The World Wide Web is great, Creagh says, but email continues to be the only aspect of the Internet available to most computer users outside the industrialized countries. He expects to find customers in Africa, for instance, eager to receive an email edition of the Monitor, even if it is text-only. The recent introduction of software that downloads Web pages, thus delivering graphically rich Web sites to computer users to read off-line, is a welcome development, Creagh says, but irrelevant to those located where email is all that's likely to be available for a long time to come.

Recently, Creagh sent out questionnaires to 1,400 users of the Monitor's first Web effort, which features intensive coverage of Bosnia through the eyes of Monitor correspondents, and has been read by 40,000 visitors from 70 countries. He got back 350 responses, 75 percent of whom said that they ould be willing to pay up to $35 per year for an email edition of the onitor. An equal number said they would be willing to pay $6 per month for ccess on the Web site to the text archive and other enhanced features. Many respondents said they would prefer a "pay per download" approach for archive access.

The Monitor has sold its first six ads already; among them are Nynex (which signed a deal to be sole sponsor of the interactive crossword puzzle) and a midwestern U.S. Apple Computer reseller. Viewers of the Monitor site will see the same ads, no matter what country they originate from, so I asked Creagh what advertisers would want an international audience. That Apple reseller, according to Creagh, says he can ship a Powerbook to a customer in Zaire as easily as to one in Canada -- so, indeed, he will benefit from the worldwide audience. (The Monitor site will not have the capability at launch to "zone" ads to Web subscribers from different parts of the world.)

Creagh says he's gotten interest in text-only advertisements to accompany the email edition, and plans to include them. On the Web site, three to four small ad logos will be placed on the main entry page, as well as on selected inside pages. The rate card has not been formalized, but one sponsor is paying $3,000 per month for a placement on an inside page.

Advertising is being priced in four different ways: flat rate by the month; by the impression (number of times the page that an ad is on is hit); by the click (number of times users actually click on an ad logo to retrieve the advertiser's message); and by exclusive sponsored section (where an advertiser would pay a premium to be the sole sponsor of the Business section, for example). Response to the exclusive sponsorship opportunities has been particularly strong, Creagh says.

This could be a site to watch. The Monitor is working with Free Range Media in Seattle, the same group that designed the much-talked-about "Grammercy Press" Web site for MCI.

Warning! Groovy graphics

Never got over the '60s? You'll want to check out the new Haight Ashbury Free Press Web site. It gets my vote for coolest background. (Don't visit this site with graphics turned off on your Web browser.) It's, like, psychedelic!

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