Some Expert Predictions for 1996

By: Steve Outing

This is my final column for 1995; Stop The Presses! will return from the holidays on Tuesday, January 2. It's been a busy, fascinating year in the newspaper new media business. One year ago, there were just under 100 newspapers operating in the online environment. Today, there are close to 700 papers worldwide operating online services (not to mention an equal number of magazines, a couple hundred college papers, and a growing cadre of online news ventures not affiliated with the traditional print media).

Covering this burgeoning industry has been a delight for me, and I've greatly enjoyed writing this column since last August. I've learned a lot -- perhaps the most enjoyable part of being a consultant is the continual education I receive as part of "the job" -- and met and interviewed a lot of interesting and creative individuals.

For today's column, we'll hear from a handful of those people I've encountered in the last year -- in person and online. I asked a sampling of individuals whose careers influence the path of the newspaper new media business to give me their predictions for where the business will head in 1996. (Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are those of the individuals, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their employer.)

David Carlson

Director, Interactive Media Lab, University of Florida at Gainesville, email:

"In two words: Agent technology. What we will see in 1996 will be more sophisticated software agents that will go out and get the news that is of interest, and they will do it at intervals of the user's choosing -- from every 5 minutes to every 5 months.

"We'll also see more leveling of the playing field among BBSs, consumer online services and ISPs. I think we'll see BBSs and consumer services beef up their Internet access capabilities, and we'll see ISPs begin to add content to compete with the others."

Bill Densmore

President, Newshare Corp., Williamstown, Massachusetts, email:

"* In 1996, newspaper managements will start figuring out how to transfer their Web efforts from the marketing department to operations -- and this will mean charting a clear path to making money.
* The initial paranoia about being beaten to cyberspace by new-media upstarts will subside and media organizations will take a more pragmatic view. They will start to establish yardsticks for measuring the value of interactive efforts. So will advertisers.
* Personalization will be the buzzword of 1996. And this will lead to thinking of the World Wide Web not just as 'new media' but as 'successor media' to centrally produced, mass-market products, whether print or broadcast.
* With personalization, some content products will be more efficiently delivered electronically and their print forebears will begin to wither. This could begin a long-term decline in revenues for major media concerns -- but continuing solid profit margins for those with unique information products -- as production and delivery costs take their most significant decline since the Linotype machine gave way to phototypesetting.
* The Internet user-growth rate will slow dramatically, causing many Web-site operations to refocus their business models on the present, not the future. This will lead to a shakeout and an examination of alternative business models such as charge-per-page.
* Newshare's managing director-technology, David Oliver, thinks 1996 will be the year we can all stop worrying about the inevitability of Microsoft taking over the Internet. The Internet has won that skirmish. What de-facto standards will emerge, however, who will (and should) control them and why?"

Terry Maquire

General counsel, International Federation of Newspaper Publishers (FIEJ), email:

"It will be a year of global and permanent newspaper 'adjustment': executives and others accepting computer-delivered services as an integral part of normal newspaper publishing. The process of implementing this principle will change newspapers around the globe, from Arkansas to Zaire and from Almaty to Zaragosa."

George Schlukbier

Vice president/editor,, Raleigh, North Carolina, email:

"Newspapers will be recognized as rich content sites. Hot multimedia Web development will excite bandwidth, the big winners will be ISDN not cable, and the RBOCs will realize they don't know how to provide customer service just as did the cable folks. Databases will be the biggest difference between great sites and just newspaper Web pages. The big alliances will still promise to eventually control the marketplace but new technology companies will excite the users and the big money will be betting on finding what's new and that doesn't mean AOL or Prodigy. 1996 will be the best year for betting on programs and development from 13-year-olds. And the Web will realize it isn't the X'ers that are the big users but the boomers with all their children!"

Norbert Specker

Creative/executive director, Interactive Publishing Europe, Zurich, Switzerland, email:

"Looking into the crystal ball I find the European newspapers slowly but surely catching up in their online presence. Their approach will be dominated by the question 'what to do there' rather than 'how to get there.' We will see a range of national online alliances (like New Century Network) in order to secure the No. 1 information provider status of newspapers and -- this I hope -- a strong commitment to quality and the quite different marketing issues of the online dialog."

Margaret Thomas

Deputy editor, The Business Times, Singapore, email:

"The worldwide awakening to this new medium will continue, but more and more we will be asking ourselves two questions: Where's the money? And just what is our market? Most of us will realize that the World Wide Web does not automatically mean worldwide readership. Many strangers will visit, but only a few will keep coming back. The vast majority of newspapers serve local communities, and the Web is not going to change this all that much. Regular online readers will be primarily people in or from the newspaper's community.

"It's the specialty or niche publications that have greatest scope for significantly widening readership via an online effort. And also those newspapers that offer not just the news but information people can use in some way. This will become clearer in 1996 as the news agencies start getting serious about the Web. CNN is already there, as is Dow Jones; and Reuters and AP and so on aren't far away. With the world's main news available on the Web as and when it happens, what should we in our local newsrooms be producing for our online newspapers? It's going to be fun to watch how we respond!"

Mel Thompson

Adviser/international planning, Asahi Shimbun (Japan), email:

"The Fires of Competition from non-newspaper news sources online will seriously damage the healthy position that newspapers have held to date. My firm belief is that the traditional newspaper business must commit the substantial human and financial resources to create a truly 'new media' -- with more than text, including interactive online archives with easy-to-use search, images, video, live interviews, and of course quality audio. The non-newspaper groups, which have practically unlimited financial resources, will seek to 'jump over' the local market relationship between newspapers and their readers. These groups will also promote their products as well as other interactive services -- inclulding information services. With the 'FIRE at the DOOR' of their local consumers, and alternatives to the news from non-newspaper sources about to be offered in fascinating formats, traditional newspapers cannot 'sleep' even one day much less one night in 1996."

Best Online Newspaper Services Competition

Please don't forget to nominate your own company or another for Editor & Publisher/The Kelsey Group's 1996 Best Online Newspaper Services Competition. The nomination form is on the Web at Deadline for nominations is January 24, 1996. Winners will be announced at the Interactive Newspapers conference in San Francisco on February 24, 1996.

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