Under high-tech tent, Content still reigns p. 9

By: Carl Sullivan But exciting revenue-driving products abound at interactive conference

Self-made financial maven ZMichael Bloomberg told the newspaper industry last week not to worry too much about keeping up with technology. ""In the end, I think there's too much focus on technology without thinking about content,"" Bloomberg said at Editor & Publisher's 10th Annual Interactive Newspaper Conference in Atlanta Interactive Newspapers Conference in Atlanta. He told the newspaper new media crowd that technology should always be a secondary concern to publishing quality content that readers can't get elsewhere.

Editorial content was just one of the major topics at this year's conference, the largest ever with over 1,300 attendees and 119 vendors exhibiting their products and services. A decade ago, there were only 50 participatns and no exhibitors at the first Interactive Newspapers conference in Dallas.
Larry Kramer, president and CEO of MarketWatch.com, said 1998 was clearly the year for national news on the Web, with the Starr Report and the entire Clinton scandal transforming news sites into real-time news providers. Much was also made of several new studies showing how an increasingly larger group of average American are turning to the Net for daily news.
While the editorial types talked editorial, publishers talked profits.
Editor & Publisher publisher D. Colin Phillips disclosed some suprisigly good news for the interactive news industry. He said a forthcoming study on interactive news industry. He said a forthcoming study on interactive services from E&P will reveal that 25% of newspapers are reporting a profit on their electronic editions. Furthermore, another 25% expect to be profitalbe by the end of this year.
The conference was abuzz with tales of how publishers have been able to obtain a once elusive goal-being in the black. What was clear is that hardly anyone is making money off advertising alone. E-commerce, content for a fee and nonpublishing Internet services are some of the ways publishers are turning a profit.
In terms of deals, las week brough several big announcements, including Compaq's purchase of ZIP2 Corp. for $303 million, according to industry sources. (See story on Page 12)
Zip2 customers in attendance wondered what the news will mean to them. While some were excited at the prospect of greatly increased traffic for their local portals, others wondered if Compaq's Alta Vista brand can ever compete with Yahoo!, America Online, and other Web giants.
In other news, KOZ.com of Research Triangle, N.C., purchaed Acuity Corp.'s well-regarded ichat software which allows for real-time communication over the Internet. KOZ will incrporate the software into its community publishing system used by many newspapers.
A number of other companies serving the online newspaper industry announced partnerships and product enhancements last week. Thomson Interactive Media of Stamford, Conn., released Classified IQ 5.1 the company's latest online classifieds product which includes a search engine, streaming video capability, email, automatic hotlinks, and online ad placement.
In the advertising realm, Real Media of New York unveiled Open AdStream 5.0 the latest version of its widely deployed ad management software. The update includes tools to automate contact management, scheduling, and contracts for sales representatives. The software will also help manage sales planning, revenue forecasting, billing, invoicing, and multi-account management.
In terms of partnerships, Power Adz. com of Rensselaer, N.Y., is teaming with competitor CLassified Ventures LLC of Chicago for its new Auction Hill Network, which will include business-to-consumer online auctions. Classified Ventures' Auction Universe subsidiary is involved in the deal.
While the companies that serve online newspapers are busy working together, newspapers are busy working together, newspapers themselves were criticized for not taking advantage of the Web's opportunities for teamwork.
"Newspapers have been pathetic at forming strategic partnerships,"" said David Hiller, senior vice president of development at Chicago's Tribune Co. Not mincing words, Hiller encouraged the industry to find partners with a common vision. To be a successful partner, said Hiller, newspapers must have equity incentives for their partners, strong management, an active senion level board, serious capital, and strong affiliate commitment.
For smaller media companies, William Anderson, president and CEO of Intelligent Life Corp. (formerly) Bank Rate Monitor), suggested co--branding as a strategic option. ""The challenge is to meet users' expectations and still generate a profit.""
To meet this challenge, Anderson said that co-branding's objectives are to spread out fixed costs by increasing the number of distribution outlets and to raise the value of the site's information content. Co-branding also meets the needs of advertisers by providing them with an efficietn buy.
While the focus was on the Web, traditional newspapers were always a part of the convention.
As Bloomberg said, ""The serious people who read real news still read newspapers. People won't stop reading the newspaper until they find a more reliable way."" Bloomberg suggested it will be some time before the newspaper as we know it today will be supplanted by the Web or any other technology.
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