Less 'Peanuts,' More Web

Article excerpt

And syndicated information products will continue to grow

The year 2000 was going to be a time of 50th anniversaries for two superstar comics: "Peanuts" and "Beetle Bailey."

Mort Walker's King Features Syndicate strip is still marching toward its September milestone, but fate has pulled the football away from Charles Schulz.

Instead of looking forward to the 50th "Peanuts" birthday in October, Schulz is trying to recuperate from colon cancer and strokes. United Media will distribute "Peanuts" reruns starting Jan. 4 for daily comics and Feb. 20 for Sunday ones. How many of Schulz's 2,600-plus clients are buying them? See next week's E&P for an update.

Meanwhile, some newer strips will continue to push the envelope on comic pages that are less tame than they used to be, but still tamer than content in other media and other sections of newspapers.

Today's most publicized envelope-pusher is "The Boondocks" by Aaron McGruder, who had 1999's biggest launch but also irked some editors and readers with frank commentary on racial issues. The Universal Press Syndicate comic, which started in April, now has 220 clients despite 10 cancellations.

Universal President John McMeel says syndicates should continue to offer at least some "challenging" features in 2000 to help clients build circulation. "It's a syndicate's responsibility to cultivate features that help newspapers attract readers they don't have," he adds, noting that these desired readers include the young and people of color.

McGruder is one of a small but growing group of about 10 syndicated African-American cartoonists. Eyeing the year 2000, Lisa Klem Wilson, United vice president/ sales and marketing, would like to see more Hispanic creators in nationwide distribution.

"We will continue to look for and develop a strip in that arena," she says. "We realize that the face of America is changing, and it has to be reflected in newspaper pages."

The face of the media is changing, too, as the Internet continues to impact syndication.

Companies such as iSyndicate and ScreamingMedia, which gather content for distribution to Web sites, expanded greatly in 1999 and predict more growth in 2000.

The more traditional syndicates also report that Web sales, while still a relatively small part of their business, rose rapidly last year and will continue to do so this year.

Content sold to Web clients includes everything from individual features to packages - not to mention syndicate-created sites branded to look like part of client sites.

Cyber clients are not just newspaper sites. There are millions of other sites, and many are increasingly looking to syndicates for content that helps attract and retain visitors. …