INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS MEDIA: PUBLISHERS MAKE SENSE OF THE NET - Business titles are using very different strategies in the race to win on the Web. By Alex Games

By ALEX GAMES, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 24 October 1997 12:00AM

As the Internet revolution continues to unfold, the attitude of the international business media remains dominated by one factor: disunity. From global news agencies to the giant newspaper and magazine groups on both sides of the Atlantic, it’s hard to detect a common approach beyond the need to have a presence on the Net. Attitudes to subscription and registration vary wildly, as do policies on the advertising:editorial ratio. As Peter Petre, executive editor of Fortune’s online edition, puts it: ’Most big players understand they have to be in this, and they’re determined to try - even if they don’t know what it is.’

As the Internet revolution continues to unfold, the attitude of the

international business media remains dominated by one factor: disunity.

From global news agencies to the giant newspaper and magazine groups on

both sides of the Atlantic, it’s hard to detect a common approach beyond

the need to have a presence on the Net. Attitudes to subscription and

registration vary wildly, as do policies on the advertising:editorial

ratio. As Peter Petre, executive editor of Fortune’s online edition,

puts it: ’Most big players understand they have to be in this, and

they’re determined to try - even if they don’t know what it is.’



The challenge, according to Steve Outing, the editor of Editor &

Publisher and columnist for Planetary News in the US, is ’to create

high-value stuff that’s worth paying for’. That’s one of the first

arguments a Website has to tackle: whether or not to charge for its

output. The online versions of magazines such as Forbes and Fortune are,

and insist they will remain, free. The Financial Times requires users to

register and thereby provide it with information about their spending

power. The Economist allows only non-subscribers to see about a third of

the magazine.



These different approaches are evidence of a multitude of business

models, and some plans are going better than others. Reuters announced a

modest (dollars 5 million) half-yearly profit earlier this year. Others

will have to wait a little longer. At the Economist, the online team is

being accorded the same status as its print colleague, ’but that might

change over ten or 15 years,’ according the brand business product

manager, Jonathan Church.



That should give it time to prepare some good excuses.


Attitudes differ but they all converge at one point: eventually the

online service must make money. Anyone hoping to make short-term profits

is playing in the wrong game.



Some say it’s all a question of presentation. That presentation takes a

variety of forms. If you scroll up and down the pages of

the_european.com, you will find pretty much the same words and pictures

you would if you bought the European - although you might be logging on

in Seoul or Sydney, where the European rarely makes it onto the

news-stands. Other players blessed with bigger budgets can aim

higher.



According to Paul Maidment, editor of electronic publishing for the FT,

’ft.com was a distinct notion from the start. We do not seek to

replicate the newspaper online.’



Maidment’s team selects 40 per cent of what is produced by FT staff.



Unconstrained by space, they can have fun with lists. Whereas the

printed FT publishes managed funds and reference prices by country, the

online team can rearrange them, for example, by fund manager.



The Internet’s role is to reinterpret the printed word, to offer an

alternative reading of it. Petre says that by opening up the letters

page to online readers, the editorial team has been exposed to a

demographic mix that might never otherwise have come to its

attention.



’It’s very exciting - and it’s nothing to do with journalism,’ he

says.



When Wall Street Journal Interactive launched in April 1996 it quickly

acquired 600,000 readers. In August 1996 the company took the decision

to charge an annual subscription fee of dollars 49, and dollars 29 for

existing print subscribers. Its readership fell dramatically but by

August 1997 it had stabilised at 100,000. WSJ Interactive, together with

the New York Times site, are regarded as the market leaders by many of

their US rivals. wsj.com’s subscriber base is about to come up for its

annual renewal. Observers are waiting with interest to see what the

churn produces.



Bloomberg, another key player, unveils its dedicated UK service next

month. Anna Bateson, a member of Bloomberg’s media team, says:

’Editorial is way higher in terms of content but advertising is

increasingly important.



That is seen as a priority which we are actively pursuing.’ Sixty per

cent of Fortune comprises ads but fortune.com has only 25 per cent. Can

they learn from each other’s successes and failures?



Success depends upon how you measure it. Church says the Economist’s

online edition is processing 700 to 1,000 new subscribers a day. The FT

is claiming seven million downloads per month. Bloomberg reckons it’s up

to 8.5 million page views per month. Fortune claimed one million page

views per week for September. One Monday in September, Forbes reported

400,000 single visits.



Such figures are bandied about like lucky charms. A more telling area

may be reader loyalty. One of the key questions is whether the Internet,

which started as one huge free read, can retain its popularity while

applying subscription and registration fees. It all depends on how you

read the surveys. According to one, by BBDO New York, 60 per cent of

online consumers objected to paying for an online version of their

favourite magazine.



Put another way, that leaves 40 per cent of readers who didn’t - and who

would, in many cases, still buy the printed product.



As the Internet expands, it seems inevitable online titles will

increasingly take on their own identities, and that similarities with

print titles will begin to weaken. Some media are actively exploiting

their Internet pages by animating the ads from their printed pages. For

others, this is a cyberworld away. It’s a question of what looks right,

for now.



The revolution rolls on. Soon, terminology such as push technology,

intranet and extranet will be as commonplace as search engines and

tracker pads.



It is hard to believe that some of the most familiar names in business

media will not fall victim to the relentless tread of progress.

According to Maidment: ’No-one has yet got the business model right.’

The clock is ticking.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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