Royal Watchers Are Fanatics, But Will They Pay?

By: Steve Outing

Will Internet consumers pay for news content on the World Wide Web? Newspaper publishers have been mulling over that one for some time, and the common wisdom remains that the answer is No, particularly for general interest news. Maybe someday, but not now.

But the UK's Associated Newspapers group (publishers of the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and London Evening Standard; combined circulation 10 million) isn't waiting. It has created a Web site featuring specialty news -- some of it exclusive -- about Britain's Royal Family. The site is called, and to view the site in its full glory will cost you $1.50 (US) per month. The site is targeted at Royal Family fanatics outside of the UK, and includes news from the Mail and Standard newspapers, as well as original reporting.

Last week, I interviewed via e-mail Paul Zwillenberg, managing director of Associated Electronic Publishing (the new media division of Associated Newspapers), about his strategy and asked him to explain why he thinks the RoyaltyUK site will succeed asking money from Web users where most others have failed.

Zwillenberg is an American who moved to London last June. He has a background in electronic media, high tech and business development, and has worked for DDB, USA Today, and Coors, and founded an interactive information services company in the late '80s. Working on the Royalty.UK site with Zwillenberg are a producer, a picture researcher, an editor, a journalist and a sales/marketing person. All work on other company interactive media projects as well. The team also works closely with Kaufman Patricof in New York, which co-produced the site.

Q: You're going out on a limb by charging a monthly subscription. Do you really think there's a market for this type of news where people will be willing to pay?

A: "Putting a number on our potential subscribers is not something we have attempted to do. What we have seen whilst looking at Royal sites on the Web is that whilst there are numerous sites dedicated to the Royal Family, these are mainly produced by Royal hobbyists. There is of course the Buckingham Palace site, the strength of which is in its encyclopedic content and not with its news or Royal gossip.

"For instance, there is no mention of Camilla Parker Bowles, and only a sentence about Fergie. takes pride in giving detailed information about what we at Associated Newspapers feel that Royal Watchers are fanatic about. Associated Newspapers have been watching the Royals for over 100 years, and so our archive as well as our current sources are far greater than any other Royal site on the Web.

"Our target audience is America, Canada, Australia and other parts of Europe where the quantity and quality of information on this global soap opera is simply not available. Royal Watchers lack the detailed Royal news which is available to the UK fanatics on a daily basis. Royal mailing lists on the Web are saturated with American members who are hungry for Royal gossip and news, and although major news will hit the American newsstands, it is the daily information about Diana's new personal trainer, or Prince Charles' favorite sculptor being arrested for body-snatching that they miss out on. provides that information every day."

Q: What features do paying subscribers get that free riders do not?

A: "As a subscriber you will receive the full Royal news stories of the day (a non-subscriber can see a synopsis of every story). These are then put into a searchable archive available to subscribers which over the months will become an incredible resource both for casual Royal lovers and as a research tool.

"We have original editorial and pictures covering many of the leading Royal figures, historical Royal moments, Royal houses, famous Royal affairs, fashion and a section called The Fun Palace, where subscribers can answer questions set by Ivor Spencer, founder of the International School of Butlers who quizzes subscribers on how they would behave in front of Royalty.

"Also in The Fun Palace, subscribers can 'morph' pictures of UK Royal's (Diana, Charles and Fergie, etc.) with US 'Royals' (e.g., Elvis and Marilyn Monroe) and see what their offspring would look like. Subscribers also receive an original feature every week -- covering topical issues surrounding the Royal family."

Q: Tell me about the content. Is this original material, or repurposed from your newspapers?

A: "Both. We base the site on content from The Mail, The Mail On Sunday, and The Evening Standard from some of the most accomplished Royal journalists in Britain. We also write some editorial exclusively for the site."

Q: But why would people pay for this, if much of the Royal news is available in the popular press?

A: "The U.S. market does not receive the in-depth Royal coverage that we are able to supply, and at less than $1.50 per month it is cheaper than any daily newspaper. The searchable archive will become the most extensive source of Royal information available on the Web, and with our exclusive features such as Royal screen savers and wallpaper, and the wealth of information covered throughout the site, avid Royal fans around the world can access information available exclusively on"

Q: Will there be "scoops" on the site?

A: "We share everything major with the papers but still retain our own exclusives and original material that the papers don't get."

Q: Do you have (or plan or offer) a by-the-day rate to visit the site, or some sort of microtransactions plan?

A: "At the moment no, but in the future, it may be something that we will think about. Our interest currently lies in making a lump sum, entertainment oriented subscription service work. At $14.95 (US) for one year, it's a relatively small sum."

Q: Will the site have advertising as a secondary revenue stream?

A: "In time we will develop advertising and sponsorship. In fact, we are finalizing negotiations with a U.S. newspaper group to syndicate the Royalty sampler selling local advertising on those pages."

Q: What other online strategies are you employing with the Royals site and elsewhere on the Web?

A: "Our marketing and distribution strategy for RoyaltyUK is particularly relevant. We are partnering with Prodigy and have agreements on the table with a search engine, a newspaper group, as well as a number of other highly targeted and particularly relevant environments.

"As far as Associated goes, we are trialing advertising models on -- a UK relevant, edited search and directory. Here we are applying our editorial skills to edit the Web for the UK. It's run in partnership with Infoseek. After 10 weeks of operation it is in the top three among UK services. The search engine is one component of our R&D strategy with regards to classified services."

Contact: Paul Zwillenberg,


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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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