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Online tools for a fee

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Tech magazine Baseline this month rolled out a bundle of online financial tools to help its readers calculate the costs and benefits of technology projects, charging $249.97 for an annual subscription to more than 40 online and downloadable tools.

The tools, which include return-on-investment calculators, cost estimators and online tutorials, are designed to help executives manage their online projects and, more specifically, cost-justify getting those projects off the ground in the first place.

Publishers providing online tools isn't a new idea. Information Week and PC Magazine, for instance, post downloadable applications that help readers improve the performance of their computers.

But for Baseline, the tools are much more than a nice editorial add-on-they are a strong extension of the title's core brand. Baseline's editorial is made up largely of case studies of IT projects, including detailed financial analysis of project details and results created by the same types of tools the publication now sells online.

"When we launched Baseline three years ago, interactive ROI [return on investment] and TCO [total cost of investment] tools were part of the editorial product from the get-go," said Sloan Seymour, senior VP of Ziff Davis Media's Enterprise Group, Baseline's parent unit. The planning tools "help senior IT executives make sound decisions about adopting new technologies or developing a plan to get IT investments funded."

Baseline Business Information Services, a separate unit of Baseline, creates the applications after consulting with experts in areas such as security and supply chain management. However, the group relies on its own in-house databases and methodologies to build and deliver the financial tools, said Regina Kwon, director of Baseline BIS.

Baseline created the separate information services unit last year. While the newly launched subscription-based tools may draw a lot of attention, the group's bread-and-butter business is in creating custom tools for Baseline advertisers, often as part of highly integrated campaigns that include print ads and other sponsorship opportunities.

Baseline BIS already has delivered custom tools to Microsoft, Avocent and Sony Electronics. Clients not only get a tool but training for their sales and marketing teams, Kwon said.

While the approach may make sense for Baseline, given its editorial mission and in-house expertise, creating and selling software online may be a stretch for many other business publishers, said Sam Whitmore, editor of MediaSurvey.com.

"It takes sort of a software company approach or mindset, and it's very labor intensive," Whitmore said. "In general, it takes a lot of infrastructure to be able to turn that into a significant piece of business." M

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