Newspapers Reborn in Electronic Information Age

Article excerpt

Most newspaper readers continue to struggle daily with the difficulty of turning pages printed in the "wing-spread" format inherited from an 18th century British tax law. However, newspaper publishers have begun to turn more and more to multimedia outlets for editorial product. Users can subscribe to machine-readable versions of full-text newspapers in a variety of access routes beyond traditional search service providers like Mead Data Central, DIALOG, DataTimes, and Dow Jones News/Retrieval.

New service providers have entered the arena. The daily newspaper has become a part of the electronic information marketplace. Each issue of the Los Angeles Times, for example, carries a boxed "Directory of Business Services: Products for Investors, Executives, Salespeople, Consultants and Students." Listings advertise Company Profiles, Annual Reports and Filings, and Articles on Demand all from Avenue Technologies, Instant Prospects PC diskettes of financial and industry statistics from Pinpoint Systems, stock quotes by phone, a Southern California Shopping Center Directory, and a Regional Shopping Center Map.

In an exciting new trend, some of the newspapers do not consider the charging practices of traditional online a reasonable way to reach mass markets. The same Los Angeles Times offers a Financial Fax service that creates a handsome daily fax covering latest quotes for a users's personal stock portfolio. They price it at $12 to $17 a month. This kind of consumer-oriented pricing fits in with developments at Prodigy and other consumer online services providing data and electronic mail services for a fixed monthly fee.

Searchcraft/E-Fax Communications

New gateway services have expanded options for newspaper publishers who want to accelerate entrance into electronic publishing without draining in-house resources. Searchcraft, Inc. offers to develop multimedia outlets including fax, electronic mail, computer voice output, as well as traditional U.S. Postal Service delivery. Their partner, E-Fax Communications, handles operations and shares in developing new gateways. Searchcraft relies on working relationships with major search services, trade associations, phone companies, electronic mail services, and other partners. Unlike traditional relationships between database producers and search services, newspaper publishers working with Searchcraft retain or have rights to see customer lists of end-user clients. Of course the service does not share any information on searcher interests, but it does identify clients by name and fax number and/or credit card numbers. Newspapers can use the data as marketing information for other products and services.

So far, Searchcraft's most successful offering has been the Fax+Plus service. Fax+Plus provides access to portions of daily Associated Press wire feeds not carried in the printed paper. The newspaper advertises the service with cover sheets offering sets of options and instructions. For example, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune carries details on play and scoring for the local hockey team, but rabid hockey fans can use the Fax+Plus service to obtain similar details on out-of-state teams. Users can also get access to local information supplied by the paper rather than a wire service, e.g., criminal court dockets and real estate buys in Minneapolis.

Access is offered through an 800 number. Prices are very low. For example, the Fax+Plus service from the San Francisco Chronicle charges 95 cents per fax until the monthly usage totals $10. After that, users can ask for all they want without paying another cent till the next month. The Chronicle's service includes commodities and futures exchange statistics and coverage of specific National Football League and National Basketball Association teams.

Other services include immediate access to a TRW Corporate Credit Report. The Legi-Fax service tracks California and New York state legislation from full text for bills to voting records and committee activity on a particular bill. …