Report From Zurich: European Newspapers Survey Complements U.S. Studies

By: Steve Outing

Hello from Zurich, where the first day of the Interactive Publishing conference has just wrapped up. More than 200 people are attending this event, coming from around the world. While many such conferences end up being "pep talks" to publishers about why they should go online, this year's conference shows that the interactive publishing industry is maturing. Many of the presentations offered information to the practicing online publisher. No longer do publishers seem to require justification for going online; they now want to know how to do it, and how to make money.

You can "listen in" on the conference as it progresses this week, since Editor & Publisher is making "tapes" of the sessions available freely on the Internet. Just go to E&P's home page and you'll find pointers to the audio files. (You'll want to use a RealAudio player to listen to them in real time.)

I will report on most of the conference presentations in the coming days in this column. For today, I'm going to focus on a survey of European newspaper interactive services, results of which were introduced Wednesday by Heinz Bonfadelli, a professor at the University of Zurich's Department of Communication.

Bonfadelli conducted his survey in October, asking newspaper publishers about the extent of their interactive services activity, their interest in creating new services, their plans for future projects, and why they are building interactive services. The results include 70 replies, so the study is considered preliminary. Bonfadelli will issue a final report in the coming months with more European newspapers participating. The results:

* The No. 1 reason for adding interactive information services among European papers is to "Remain the No. 1 information source" in their communities. This matches results of a similar U.S. newspaper industry survey conducted by The Kelsey Group/Editor & Publisher. The second most important reason among the Europeans is to "Provde additional reader service." Coming in a distant fourth is "Generate new revenue/profit sources." Interestingly, the Kelsey/E&P survey of U.S. papers showed that U.S. publishers are much more interested in interactive services generating revenue; that reason for creating new services ranked second among U.S. publishers. Breaking down the European numbers further, generating revenue is ranked high by U.K. and French publishers, but low by all others.

* Each type of interactive service seems to be motivated for different reasons. Bonfadelli's study showed that fax services are regarded by publishers mostly as additional services that will improve customer needs. CD-ROM projects are viewed primarily as an opportunity to acquire experience in electronic delivery. Involvement in interactive television is seen as a way to pre-empt competition. And online services are viewed as a way to remain the No. 1 information source.

* When asked about their current interest in the various forms of interactive services, publishers showed their strongest prediliction for online services, followed by audiotex and fax services. Looking one year ahead, the publishers ranked interactive television third, replacing fax services.

* European newspapers show lower interest levels than their U.S. counterparts in all forms of interactive services. On a scale of 1 to 10, European publishers ranked their interest one year from now in online services as 7.0; the U.S. comparative number is 7.7.

* 38% of the European papers polled said they currently have a World Wide Web service; 9% operate BBSs; 22% have an affiliation with a commercial online service; and 38% are contemplating starting some sort of online service.

* Only 22% of the European respondents said they had no online presence whatsoever. In other words, 78% of newspapers said they currently have or intend to create an online service.

* 80% of the the European newspapers had a person or department devoted to new media technologies.

* The most popular features offered by European online newspaper services were (in order): News, sports and opinion. Compare that to U.S. papers (from the Kelsey/E&P study): electronic classifieds, sports, news, mortgage quotes and weather. Classified advertising has not shown up online in a big way in Europe yet.

* The most popular features of European audiotex services: Weather, horoscopes, stock quotes, opinion and news. For U.S. audiotex: Sports, news, weather and stock quotes.

I'll report in again tomorrow from Zurich. Aufwiedersehen!

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