Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Wake-Up Call: Newspaper Audiotex Ringing Up Dollars in Bad Economic Times

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Wake-Up Call: Newspaper Audiotex Ringing Up Dollars in Bad Economic Times

Article excerpt

For North American newspapers, bad times have been a wake-up call--literally.

The number of newspapers which are offering voice information services--audiotex--has exploded during this current downturn.

In fact, audiotex seems to be increasing in a kind of inverse relationship with the slumping newspaper climate.

"Despite the economy and its horrible impact on advertising revenues, despite the uncertainty about the role the regional Bell operating companies (RBOCs) will play in voice information services, the number of newspapers offering voice information services is increasing dramatically, to the point there are today 1,200 papers," said John F. Kelsey III, managing director of Princeton, N.J.-based Audiotex Group and publisher of the audiotex newsletter the Kelsey Report.

Just three years ago, only 42 papers qualified as "talking newspapers," Kelsey noted, and even last February the number had reached just 450.

By February 1993, Kelsey predicts, fully 2,000 dailies, weeklies, or free community papers will offer audiotex services.

Upbeat news

Kelsey's statistics were just one of many upbeat reports on audiotex progress presented at the third annual Talking Newspapers and Telecommunications Opportunities Conference held Feb. 9-11 at the Hyatt Regency hotel in New Orleans.

The conference which, Kelsey said, had attracted the largest audience ever for one devoted solely to newspaper audiotex, was co-sponsored by the Audiotex Group and Editor & Publisher.

For many newspaper executives the conference was as much a respite from gloom as the pleasant New Orleans weather was from winter back home.

In many ways, audiotex experts said, it was precisely the bad news that is driving the expansion of newspaper audiotex.

"Up to now, I'll admit, few fortunes have been made betting on the flexibility of North American newspapers. But I think the grim news now makes that the best bet there is," said W. Terry Maguire, speaking just 12 hours after leaving his position as senior vice president of the American Newspaper Publishers Association.

Maguire said newspapers had the potential to become "newsprint Nintendos" in their marketplaces.

"I think the telephone medium can be the salvation of a medium that some refer to as mature: the medium of newspapers," said Maguire, who is now senior vice president of a newspaper consulting firm, ABRH Consulting Inc.

New thinking

That optimism, voiced by speaker after speaker, reflects a big change in the thinking of newspapers on audiotex.

Where once audiotex was regarded as primarily a defensive competitive weapon, increasingly newspapers believe the voice technology fits their long-term mission as information providers, and can be really profitable.

For example, a survey of dailies and weeklies with more than 30,000 circulation, conducted by the Audiotex Group, found newspapers are putting far more emphasis on using audiotex to generate revenues than even two years ago.

In fact, generating additional revenues is far and away the number one reason that weeklies cite for getting into audiotex. Dailies continue to rate "remaining the number one information source in their market" and "providing additional reader services" as greater priorities, but the gap is narrowing between those reasons and a profit motive.

One indication of the new seriousness with which newspapers are taking audiotex is the response to the 1992 survey. …

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