Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pioneer PressLink Keeps on Going

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Pioneer PressLink Keeps on Going

Article excerpt

DIGITAL PREPRESS SYSTEMS may be the industry standard now, but PressLink founder Roger Fidler remembers the difficulties he encountered in 1985 convincing Knight-Ridder executives of the future of electronic distribution of information.

Although for Fidler it was "painfully obvious what needed to be done," he struggled to secure the financial resources for his fledgling project.

At the time, though, he believed that with AppleLink, the then-new software from Apple and General Electric Information Services, he could develop a groundbreaking service for delivering information to newspapers.

That vision has been vindicated by history. What began as a network that enabled Knight-Ridder newspapers to share graphics has grown into one of the leading online news, photography and graphics services for publishers.

Although Knight-Ridder does not disclose PressLink's revenues and profits, Steve Messere, manager of marketing, said the service has been "tremendously successful for the last several years."

Eleven years after its inception, PressLink, the first online service for the newspaper industry, counts over 95 of the top 100 newspapers among its membership and offers an extensive network of information providers. Based in Reston, Va., PressLink has 14 employees.

The Knight-Ridder 1994 annual report trumpets, "PressLink demonstrates how a niche market can be created through the application of electronic delivery capabilities; it is a more cost-effective way to send images than wire or satellite."

PressLink has thrived despite the pitfalls of the new media business. As many publishers have discovered, adapting emerging technology to new uses, and doing it profitably, is no easy task.

Fidler believes that many of the problems of implementing new services stem from a common misconception: "Companies believe that all they have to do is come up with ideas and delegate responsibilities. The only way it works is when the person developing the project has the passion and is willing to work the extra hours. Without that, the project will not succeed."

Of course, even hard work does not guarantee success. By the end of 1985, only six Knight-Ridder newspapers had elected to participate in PressLink, and it was difficult to get newspapers excited about using computer graphics, Fidler said.

Ironically, it took a national tragedy to demonstrate the system's potential. The Challenger explosion in January 1986 "was one of the key factors in making Presslink successful," Fidler said.

Because graphics are produced and revised so much faster on computers than manually PressLink was able to quickly produce high-quality graphics of the tragedy. Furthermore, electronic transmission delivered the graphics in minutes, far faster than overnight mail, as well as revisions to include the latest information.

In a subsequent mailing, Fidler showed all Knight-Ridder papers the Challenger graphics they could have gotten -- had they joined PressLink -- and by May 1986, nearly every paper in the chain had signed on. Other newspapers soon followed suit. In September 1986, Phoenix Newspapers Inc. became the first subscriber outside the Knight-Ridder group. Also that year, PressLink added text and began suggesting layouts.

The current service uses a dial-up system called PressLink 2000. Members pay a one-time membership fee, a monthly maintenance fee, and hourly and per-item charges for downloading and copyright. Copyright charges for magazines are based on publication frequency, while newspapers pay based on circulation. …

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