Using an Online Service to Strengthen the Newspaper

By: Steve Outing

As the online newspaper services business matures, some publishers are spinning off their new media operations. Digital Ink is a separate division of the Washington Post Co. In Raleigh, North Carolina, the News & Observer's NandO service has become a separate entity separate from the newspaper (see my Tuesday column); it's become a national/international online service and is spinning off into consulting, software development and other services.

But there's another way to go, as Bruce Cohen of the Mail & Guardian in Johannesburg, South Africa, suggested after reading my columns last week about revenue models for online newspaper services.

"This debate over ads is fascinating. Let me give you a sense of what my experience has been.

"What I have been doing with our online service is using it as a free value-added service for hard-copy advertisers.

"If clients are spending money in the 'real' newsaper, we're only too happy to bolt-on a Web contest, an ad, sponsorship or some other service that will allow them to do some test-marketing through the Internet and hopefully see the value of using this medium in the future.

"Truth is, in a relatively small market like South Africa, I will not for a long time to come be able to charge out a rate for ads on the Internet anywhere near what I can get for a hard-copy ad.

"By taking our Internet service on the road to existing and new prospects, the presentations we are making are sparking a renewed interest in our paper, and we're using the bolt-on value of Internet ads to give clients an extra reason to place their hard copy ads. It's also helping to position us as a wired 'progressive' company.

"So we're using the Internet to generate new business and cement existing relationships with our paper, not our online service, because at this stage that's where the real revenues are.

"So, should publishers be spinning off their Internet services as separate profit centers or should they be treating their Internet investment as a cost center linking it to their overall marketing strategy and overall profitability? For the small guys like us, the latter approach might be more effective.

"It's certainly working for the Mail & Guardian."

Newspaper "look" doesn't work online

There's room for all types of approaches on the Internet, and newspapers around the world are experimenting with many techniques for publishing online. While checking out some new newspapers on the Web recently, however, I saw one "online newspaper" that just didn't sit well with me.

This was a new entry by a small U.S.paper. The "front page" of its Web site looked just like ... a front page. There was the newspaper masthead, just as it looks in print, with tiny type on the "ears" that included the date and even the price of the paper (50 cents). Problem was, the type was breaking up and nearly unreadable.

Below the masthead was what looked like a traditional typeset news story, except the type was a blur. Below that was the color page 1 photo of the day. To the right of the photo were several buttons, to take you to the National News, Local News, Sports, etc. Each day, this electronic "front page" is updated. If you view this site with a 14.4 or slower modem, loading of the "front page" is intolerably slow.

The originators of this site obviously felt they wanted to copy the look of the printed paper online. Sorry, but that's one approach that nearly never makes sense. Online is a different medium, and online services need to be designed to fit the environment. Print design on a Web site doesn't make sense and seldom succeeds -- though you can successfully design Web pages that maintain some of the look and feel of the print product, as evidenced by the Wall Street Journal's Web site. A 15-inch computer screen is not a newspaper page.

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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