NCN Alums Battle in HTML E-mail Publishing Space

By: Steve Outing When New Century Network (NCN) folded earlier this year, the much-touted U.S. newspaper industry cooperative cyberspace venture was developing a project that would have provided technology for publishers to offer HTML (multimedia) e-mail services. An HTML e-mail business plan had been created, but when the NCN plug was pulled by its nine newspaper company owners, the technology for the service was not yet that far along.

Now, NCN staff alumni have taken the ball that began rolling while NCN was still alive and are starting to run with it. Two groups of people with NCN ties have developed the HTML e-mail concept devised at NCN and created their own services; the NCN alums now find themselves competing with each other.


Launched recently was CheetahMail, an HTML e-mail automated service bureau that lets publishers develop e-mail delivery services for various content components of their Web sites. Founders of the New York-based company are Irene Pedraza, NCN's former head of advertising technology, and David Villeger, NCN's former director of operations. (Villeger was doing the implementation of the NCN e-mail service during NCN's final days.) They have partnered with Thaumaturgix, a New York consulting firm, and together created the Madison Avenue Technology Group. (MATG's only project to date is CheetahMail, but the company may expand later to other products.)

CheetahMail's concept is to make it simple for publishers to operate e-mail content delivery services, by offering hosted services that include the publisher's branding on delivered mail. The company's first customers are newspapers (the Knoxville News-Sentinel in Tennessee; The Columbian in Vancouver, Washington; the St. Augustine Herald in Florida; and the Daily Register Online in Harrisburg, Illinois), but Pedraza says that's primarily because she and Villeger come out of the newspaper industry and have pre-existing business relationships with newspaper companies. The service is designed not only for newspapers, but for anyone wishing to set up deliveries of content via e-mail -- from large publishers to one-man Web content site operators.

By registering on the CheetahMail Web site, a publisher can set up a subscription area open to the public, and specify "products" (Web pages) for which it wants to set up regular HTML e-mail delivery service. The publisher then includes a URL on its Web site which directs Web users to a page that can be used to subscribe to the service.

(I used CheetahMail to set up an HTML e-mail delivery service for Stop the Presses! If you'd like to try it out, click on this link.)

The service offers two models, one free and one paid. In the free service (which is how I set up the test e-mail service for Stop The Presses!), publishers agree to allow CheetahMail to include a banner ad along with the HTML page that's delivered to subscribers. (The delivered page may already include ads sold by the publisher, of course.) The paid version, which is sold on a cost per thousand messages delivered basis, contains no extra advertising. Pedraza declined to quote a price for the paid service, but says it is below the rate typically charged by e-mail hosting services -- companies like Email Publishing or Infobeat, which she counts as direct competitors to CheetahMail.

Pedraza says that CheetahMail differs from its competitors in offering an automated way to set up HTML e-mail delivered products. Other than a phone call or e-mail to negotiate a price-per-thousand rate for the paid version of the service, the publisher interacts with Web forms on the CheetahMail site.


CheetahMail's chief competitor is run by two individuals that Pedraza and Villeger know well. New York-based PostalWorks LLC was formed by Vin Crosbie and Peter Chislett, who both worked with NCN as outside consultants to design and implement the NCN HTML e-mail service. Crosbie wrote the business plan for the service, and Chislett and his company, WebConcepts, architected the system. Chislett originally was to have implemented the service as well, but before NCN died the decision was made to save money and build it in-house. Villeger was then tapped to actually build the system, but shortly thereafter NCN fell apart before the system could be completed.

PostalWorks is the name of Crosbie and Chislett's HTML e-mail publishing system, which has been under beta testing with several newspaper publishers since last May. A commercial launch of the service is expected next month, according to Crosbie. He says PostalWorks is working with a couple of major U.S. newspaper chains, a metro daily paper, and a European new media industry news service.

While the basic concept of PostalWorks is very close to that of CheetahMail, the difference is largely in how the systems work. While CheetahMail is a hosted service, PostalWorks' software is designed to work on the server of the client publisher. The company is offering hosted e-mail delivery services, but it also licenses the software for use on customers' servers. Crosbie says it's his belief that most serious publishers would rather have their digital delivery services directly under their control, and not rely on an outsourcing company.

PostalWorks also does not offer free e-mail delivery services supported by advertising; its business model is strictly negotiating for e-mail hosting services, or selling software licenses to publishers.

Both PostalWorks and CheetahMail plan to soon add text e-mail services into their offerings, so that consumers can order text or HTML content delivery. In the case of PostalWorks, the company has partnered with SockMail, a text e-mail delivery service. SockMail's capabilities will be integrated into PostalWorks, and the SockMail name will go away, says Crosbie.

Why and how

In previous columns, I have written about the concept of HTML e-mail delivery service, and bemoaned the fact that so few publishers have taken advantage of it. The emergence of two competing companies offering such services and technology might help move things along and encourage more newspaper sites, in particular, to begin offering HTML e-mail services -- especially since both of these companies were founded by individuals who are from the newspaper industry.

Pedraza says news publishers should simply look at the most popular items on their sites that run regularly, and create e-mail delivery options for that content. Among the best content for delivery at news sites, she says: top headlines; sports news (specific team or player coverage, tracking the home run record race, etc.); weather; lottery results; regularly run searches on a site's classified ads, to name a few. Generally, the more specialized the content, the more likely to find an e-mail audience.

Revenue prospects for such e-mail services are most likely to be from advertising, but Pedraza points out that e-mail delivered content offers excellent targeting opportunities for which advertisers can be expected to pay higher rates than for plain-vanilla Web pages on a news site. She also advocates finding or producing some content that can be sold on a subscription basis. Niche coverage that's not offered on the Web site or its parent publication -- say, a weekly "insider" stocks column written strictly for e-mail subscribers and unavailable anywhere else -- might be worth some cash for some site users.

The nice thing about HTML e-mail delivered content, as I've advocated in my previous columns on this topic, is that it encourages usage of a Web site. When designing content to be e-mailed to subscribers, it's useful to include links in the content that encourages users to click while reading their e-mail -- launching a Web browser application and increasing hits on your Web site.

Now that new technology and services are available to make it easier to provider HTML e-mail delivery services, what are you waiting for?

Contacts: Peter Chislett,
Vin Crosbie,
Irene Pedraza,


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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

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


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