The Comics Page, Brought to You on the Web By ...

By: Steve Outing

In many printed newspapers, one of the most widely read pages does not contain advertising: the comics. On the World Wide Web, however, a newspaper site's comics are a proven attention-getter -- and thus represent a premium advertising venue. Here's an interesting approach from Universal Press Syndicate that seems to meld advertising and online comics nicely, plus provide a level of security so that viewers of a comic strip on the Web must enter through the "front door" of a newspaper that carries the strip.

The new product is called UClick, and it will be demonstrated for the first time this week at the Connections conference in Las Vegas. (June 14-15, sponsored by the Newspaper Association of America) It's a product of Universal New Media, a division of Universal Press Syndicate, using technology developed by The Josephus Group, a new Internet publishing tools consultancy formed by former NandO chief Frank Daniels III.

The concept is that newspapers subscribing to syndicated comics (UPS' or others') can use the UClick service to allow viewers of the newspaper Web site to see today's comics, while preventing other Web users from doing so. A comics viewer would see a UClick logo on the newspaper site and would need to click on a UClick link to retrieve a particular comic, which is then included on a dynamically produced page dished out by a central UPS server, according to Bill Mitchell, UPS' editor and director of development. The resulting page could not be saved as a bookmark on a client Web browser.

No password is required to view a paper's comics, unless the newspaper Web site normally requires a password to access its information. Access is controlled by the central UPS server reading where a user is coming from; if he's coming from a Web site other than a subscribing newspaper, access to the current comics will be denied. Current comics will not be accessible from the UPS Web site, either, but only from client newspapers' sites.

In addition to the current day's comic, each locally branded UClick page will include links to the last 14 days of that particular strip; a link to a public UPS page that includes information about the cartoonist and a selection of his or her archived strips; and opportunities for readers to offer feedback to the artist.

Local newspaper branding is included in the dynamically produced pages, as are two banner advertisements for each comic. At the top of the page, along with the newspaper's banner, are a national ad and a local ad. The revenue model is expected to be that UPS sells the national ads and keeps 100% of the revenues, and the local ad can be sold by the local newspaper, which keeps 100% of that revenue, according to Mitchell.

Local publishers would be able to sell one ad banner per comic strip, which would allow them to place a different ad on Cathy than on Doonesbury. It's a safe bet that regular readers of the Family Circus strip might be a different demographic than those who like Bizarro, for instance. Mitchell says the types of readers a particular strip might attract can be guessed at, but no specific demographic studies are available on the typical reader of any one comic.

To use the UClick service, publishers will need to subscribe to the Web version of UPS comics. Mitchell declined to quote a price, but says that the cost of buying Web publication rights for a strip is "way less" than print publication rights. Publishers also will pay $1 per week, per strip for regular statistical reports on page impressions per comic and clickthroughs of ads on the comic pages.

What UClick can't do yet is allow readers to select a group of their favorite comics and save that page to visit day after day. Mitchell says the Josephus programmers are working on that improvement.

This is an interesting concept that should allow more newspapers to put their comics onto their Web sites. Few papers have done so to date, primarily because of the problem of uncontrolled access by anyone on the Internet to a paper's comic strips. UClick would appear to have solved this problem, and supports a revenue stream specifically for comics. The concept also can be carried over to other syndicated materials that may be presented on the Web, but Mitchell declined to comment on that possibility.

Contact: Bill Mitchell,

Movin' On

George Schlukbier has left NandO, the new media division of McClatchy Newspapers, to join the Josephus Group as a partner in the new company. Josephus is behind the technology of UClick, mentioned in the item above. Its president is Frank Daniels III, former head of NandO.

New revenue source for Philly Online

The Philadelphia newspapers' online service, Philadelphia Online, has landed a contract with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce to provide training, education and Web site development assistance to Chamber members. Local companies will get discounted access to the Internet and Web site development and assistance from Philadelphia Online. (Philadelphia Online is an affiliate of InfiNet, which sells co-branded Internet access to Philadelphia area residents and businesses.)

This is an excellent example of how newspaper companies with successful Web sites can tap new revenue streams to support the overall new media program. As some newspaper publishers have discovered, Web site development can be a profitable sideline business that brings in a respectable amount of money -- even as the paper's Web service itself struggles with generating revenues from advertising, subscription fees and/or premium-service charges. (And if you don't want to hire staff or have existing staff doing Web site design for outside companies, consider allying with outside Web companies to do the work and take a commission off their work, in effect serving as their agent. Thanks to William Webb for that useful tip.)

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