Unlimited editions: 'My post' launches

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The online newspaper business is starting to get personal.

On June 5th, The Washington Post, one of the few newspapers with a more-than-local following, will launch a personalized version of its washingtonpost.com Web site-mywashingtonpost.com. The service has what officials at Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive said are deeper personalization tools than the Post's rivals, which include the Microsoft Corp.-NBC joint venture MSNBC.com and the New York Times Digital's nytimes.com. Ads for the service break locally the week of June 11.

The service's features include custom access to horoscopes and comics, and options to personalize information by topic, favorite features or columns; sort entertainment and community information by neighborhood; sort stock portfolios, sports teams and traffic both in Washington and elsewhere.

While the site does not break any new ground in technology, the company feels its personalization tools-which are still better than many competitors'-will allow enough custom-tailoring of topics to better serve the site's local readership and the two-thirds of the washingtonpost.com audience that lies outside the D.C. area. Though that mission also could apply to several other newspaper brands, the situation is more pointed for the Post, which does not have national distribution of its print product.

The washingtonpost.com's popularity on a national and local level has sometimes proved confusing for visitors, according to Chris Schroeder, CEO-publisher of Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive. Depending on the news day, the site may have a distinct local, national or international flavor. "Trying to cross these two audiences is a very peculiar challenge," he said. Mr. Schroeder feels the service will be able to attract enough local and national advertisers to be profitable, though he declined to detail the product's goals for either revenue or subscribers.

Most online newspapers offer a more limited sort of personalization, allowing people to track stocks, or weather, or receive topic-specific e-mail newsletters. That model is just fine with some competitors, including Martin Nisenholtz, CEO of the New York Times Co.'s New York Times Digital. The nytimes.com site, which receives 80% of its traffic from outside the New York area, is planning to broaden its personalization capabilities later this year by expanding upon its limited-reach, topic-specific e-mail newsletters, he said. Theoretically, Mr. Nisenholtz is in favor of personalization products such as the Post's, but he feels the online advertising marketplace isn't ready for them, because the value-add for advertisers is still minimal. "The question is how do you get any return on investment?"

Others who have studied the market, including Forrester Research, believe the best way to make money on such ventures is to explore multiple revenue streams. According to Daniel O'Brien, an analyst at the Cambridge, Mass., research firm, "We said sort of gingerly [in a recent report] that companies should look down the road at charging some sort of subscription price."

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