More Newspapers Becoming ISPs With InfiNet Affiliation

By: Steve Outing

InfiNet, the U.S. Internet service provider (ISP) owned by Knight-Ridder Newspapers and Landmark Communications, is very busy bringing up new newspapers' Web services and setting them up to sell Internet access in their local markets. I checked in with Chris Kouba, InfiNet's managing editor for online services and senior consultant, for an update.

The big news this year for InfiNet is that it is bringing a long list of U.S. newspapers into the ISP business. Nearly all of Knight-Ridder's newspapers are due to launch by mid 1996, with most launching within the next few months. Landmark's newspapers already are up and running, and InfiNet is branching out to include more papers not affiliated with either of InfiNet's corporate owners. Kouba says they're adding 1 or 2 newspaper affiliates a week, and currently have 60 affiliates (not all of them operational yet).

InfiNet hosts newspaper Web sites, and provides consulting services and Web feature sets for its affiliates. The primary attraction to working with InfiNet is that it will set up an ISP business in a newspaper's market and sell Internet access accounts under the publisher's brand name -- sharing access revenues with the paper.

A new strategy being embarked on by the company is to assist newspapers with publishing on the Internet without requiring them to become ISPs, with InfiNet selling its consulting and Web hosting services and feature sets/templates. Kouba says InfiNet recently signed up its first client that will forgo becoming an ISP.

Here's a list of U.S. newspapers either online or going online with InfiNet, for those of you keeping track:

Knight-Ridder properties: Aberdeen American News, Akron Beacon Journal, Boca Raton News, Boulder Daily Camera, Bradenton Herald, Centre Daily Times (State College, Pennsylvania), Charlotte Observer, Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Contra Costa Times, Detroit Free Press, Duluth Tribune-News, Fort Wayne Newspapers, Grand Forks Herald, Ledger Dispatcher (Contra Costa County, California), Lexington Herald-Leader, The Macon (Georgia) Telegraph, Miami Herald, Myrtle Beach Sun-News, Philadelphia Inquirer/Daily News, The Post-Tribune (Gary, Indiana), The Press Telegram (Long Beach, California), San Jose Mercury News, San Ramon Valley Times/Valley Times, St. Paul Pioneer Press, The State (Columbia, South Carolina), The Sun Herald (Biloxi, Mississippi), Tallahassee Democrat, West County Times (Contra Costa, California), and The Wichita Eagle.

Landmark properties: The Capital (Annapolis, Maryland), Carroll County Times, Citrus County Chronicle, News Enterprise (Elizabethtown, Kentucky), News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), Roanoke Times, The Virginian-Pilot, and Washingtonian Magazine.

Other newspapers: Billings Gazette, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Fairfax Journal, Fayetteville Observer, Florida Times-Union, Florida Today, Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, Gannett Suburban Newspapers, Hartford Courant, Intelligencer Journal (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois), Pottsville Republican, South Bend Tribune, Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, Massachusetts), Tribune Review (Pittsburg), Washington Times, Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, and Wisconsin State Journal.

New York Times On the Web update

The New York Times got off to a mixed start last week with its New York Times On the Web service. Usage was far above what Times managers had expected (the good news), but that demand over-taxed the servers so much that the registration process implemented at the site had to be taken down temporarily (the bad news). I checked in with Steve Luciani, senior vice president for systems and operations, to see how the first 10 days of the new Web service went for the Times.

As I reported in a column last week, the lone Times server couldn't keep up with the load experienced on its first day open to the public -- primarily due to the load required to register new users who were visiting the site en masse. Luciani says by 8 p.m. on the first Monday of operation a second content server was up and running. He had expected to have to add another server to meet demand, "but not on the first day." The server operation, running on a T-3 connection to the Internet, now consists of 2 content servers and a user database server. I check in on the Times site daily and can confirm that this configuration appears to be adequate for now; pages load relatively quickly.

Luciani was reluctant to release "hit" counts on the servers, since they can be misinterpreted. (Each time someone visits the Times home page, that's 3 hits.) He says the site has been extremely active and is now among the top 10 busiest sites on the Web, when you exclude sites such as Netscape and Playboy. The reason for not having accurate user counts is because of the troubles they experienced with registrations. (Registration was turned on and off again during the last 10 days.) Once it's working full time, the registration process will allow the Times to give accurate data to its advertisers. The Times is examining Web user tracking systems like I/PRO and NetCount but no decision about what to use has been made, Luciani says.

An issue that's causing some debate worldwide is the Times' policy of charging non-U.S. computer users to view the site (after 30 days free), while allowing U.S. users free access (at least for the next several months while the Times evaluates its U.S. revenue model for the site). Wouldn't it be fairly easy for a technically minded non-U.S. user to get around the subscription fee and masquerade as a U.S. user, I asked Luciani. (The Times servers read incoming IP addresses to determine if you're a U.S. user or not.)

He says that the Times expects to get about 80-90% compliance and is putting people on an "honor system" to pay up if they're not entitled to free access. Some computer users outside the U.S. -- those using or systems, for example -- will probably be able to get in without paying. Others might connect from their home network first through a U.S. server before hitting the Times site, thus appearing to be U.S. users. "Some people will be able to beat us" but the majority will be honest, says Luciani, and "we just have to live with that."

The Times' servers' ability to read incoming addresses and figure out where a user is from will allow targeting of ads by country or region of the world, Luciani says. Such targeted advertising won't be foolproof, however, since those or users could be anywhere on the globe. Nevertheless, a system does exist with the Times Web site to allow advertisers to broadcast their message to a targeted audience.

Saying of the day

"You can never be too rich, too thin, or have too much bandwidth." (culled from Information Week, January 22, 1996, issue)

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