Fax Newspapers: Publishing or Perishing?

Article excerpt

In my May 1990 TechnoTrends column [1], I discussed the use of fax machines as an information delivery channel; one application I mentioned was fax editions of daily newspapers. In that column, I termed fax newspapers a "recent innovative information service." Now that fax newspapers have been available for over two years (since April, 1989), they are no longer a recently developed information service, but they are still innovative. In this column, I will explore fax newspapers in more detail than was possible in my earlier column.

To get an idea of the growth of information about fax newspapers, I did a quick search in the PAPERS collection, plus several business-related databases on DIALOG. The search strategy was simple: s (fax or facsimile)(2n)(news or newspaper?).

After removing the duplicates, the search resulted in 268 articles on the subject published in 1991, 225 in 1990, and 132 in 1989. Clearly, there is a considerable and sustained interest in fax newspapers.

SURVEY OF FAX NEWSPAPER EDITIONS

As noted above, fax newspapers began in April, 1989, when the Hartford Courant (which claims to be the nation's oldest continuously published newspaper) began preparing a one-page edition of the following day's paper, and distributing it by fax to subscribers. The fax edition of the Courant is a single sheet containing abridged versions of major news stories, closing prices of selected stocks, and weather data; it is issued about 4 p.m. each business day. Much of the space is devoted to business news and is particularly aimed at Hartford's two major industries; insurance and Connecticut State Government. An annual subscription to the fax paper was initially offered for $2,500, but when few subscribers were attracted, the price quickly dropped to $1,000 and then to $600 [2]. The Courant's fax edition is the oldest of the fax newspapers; it is still available and, according to published reports, it is profitable.

The fax edition of the Courant generated substantial interest in the newspaper industry, and it was not long before several other newspapers jumped into the market with their own fax versions. Among these were the Chicago Tribune, Toronto Globe & Mail, LISA Today, Los Angeles Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Wall Street Journal. Competitive fax news papers even sprung up in some cities; for example, both newspapers serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the St. Paul Pioneer, began fax editions within a week of each other [3].

Some papers found innovative uses for fax editions; the Honolulu Star-Bulletin produced a Japanese language daily, Facts Hawaii, faxed to subscribers in Japan [4]. After an introductory period, Facts Hawaii was priced at $125 a month for individual subscribers and $600 for corporate subscribers. Given the large number of investments in Hawaii by the Japanese, Facts Hawaii has a good potential for success.

Some news agencies use fax editions to serve hard-to-reach customers rapidly and conveniently. The Moscow News Weekly publishes a fax digest for subscribers in countries as far away as Malaysia; the edition is available in the Russian, French, German, or English languages [5].

Fax machines are also used by some news agencies as a way to circumvent established channels when they are unavailable or restricted. During the coup in Moscow, the Gulf War in Kuwait, and recent civil disturbances in China, news agencies were forbidden to transmit their stories or were forced to submit to censorship; fax machines were sometimes used to communicate with the outside world [6]. The same dispatches were also used to produce clandestine local fax newspapers.

SMALL NEWSPAPERS, SPECIAL EDITIONS

Fax news is not limited to large newspapers with large circulations. In Effingham, IL, a one-page daily fax edition, Fax Today, is produced independently of the local daily newspaper by an entrepreneur with no newspaper experience [7]. …