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Media Online: Wave of the Future?

Publisher Bob Loomis recalls the moment in 1994 that the San Diego Daily Transcript entered the Internet information age. It was during a staff meeting, and Bill Revelle, board chairman of the company that owns the local business daily, tossed a computer program on the table and said, according to Loomis:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are no longer a newspaper. We are an information company.”

In Internet time, the year 1994 seems ancient history. The Transcript was the first local newspaper to launch a Web site, called San Diego Source.

Since then, many local newspapers, magazines and TV stations now have Web sites. The sites have information ranging from on-air or print news content to additional information, search engines and links to other pages and organizations.

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As the Internet started, site-seeing has been free; however that’s just starting to change.

Next month, the Transcript and the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Web site, SignOnSanDiego.com, are both taking another step toward charging for site use.

Currently, the Transcript charges $149 for use of some of its online information. Starting Nov. 8, the vast majority of the Transcript’s Web site will be solely accessible to paid online subscribers, he said. It will cost $169 a year, which includes a year’s subscription to the newspaper.

The fact that the Transcript thinks it can charge for online information indicates that the market has changed, Loomis said.

“Our intention is to sell information online,” Loomis said. “It always has been. It’s simply been a question of when would the local market mature to the point where we could do that.”

& #711; Research Indicates

2,500 Hits Daily

On the morning he was interviewed, Loomis noted that about 2,500 users had paid to use the pay-only portion of the site.

The Transcript’s research indicates the site has about 25,000 hits daily, and visitors look at least eight pages.

Loomis expects more than half of those visitors to be paid subscribers by the first of the year.

The Transcript had been monitoring its subscribers to find when the time was right to start charging for site access.

“About nine months to a year ago,” Loomis said, “we had reached the point were 1,000 subscribers were saying they were not going to renew the paper because they were getting the information online. And that’s when we converted some of our search databases to paid, and now we’re running to take the entire site paid.”

The $169 charge is likely to go up, Loomis said. “You can see that, quite rapidly, our paid circulation on the Web is going to become very important. Hopefully, by the first of the year, we’ll be at a 50-50 split,” he said of between the sites’s support from advertising and subscription revenue.

& #711; SignOn To Charge

3 For Full Views

At the Union-Tribune, the decision to charge $3 for full views of archived stories is a way for the site to be a business in and of itself, said Jim Drummond, general manager for SignOnSanDiego.

Drummond said charging for such services is typical for newspaper Web sites today.

Access to stories published in the Union-Tribune within the last seven days will remain free, and there will be a discounted “after-hours” fee of $1 to download stories, he said.

There will also be programs such as volume deals for frequent users, Drummond said.

Other sites from local media haven’t begun charging, but are trying to draw more users through recent and upcoming changes.

San Diego Magazine’s Web site was launched in 1995, said Mike James, who has been Web production manager for San Diego Magazine Online for about two years. It doesn’t have plans to charge site users, James said.

Online was one of the first magazine Web sites in the country, James said, and it’s focus on San Diego life and entertainment was unusual. Since then, many more Web sites have come into the market , and many have exited, James noted. But, he said, it’s prompted the magazine to further focus its online efforts on its target audience.

& #711; Most Of Audience

From North County

James describes this audience as having a higher-than-average income, more affluent, and a higher percentage living in North County.

To further direct itself at its target market, San Diego Magazine Online is planning to add more content to the site. It will concentrate on topics such as health and beauty, travel, society, real estate and fine dining.

James said that the renovated site will be up by the beginning of the year. Although decisions are still being made, the company is likely to hire more people to handle the changes, he said.

The Transcript’s San Diego Source is also planning to focus more on business content, said Joseph Schmitt II, information technology manager at the paper.

Lisa Minjares, design director for KFMB’s new media department, was hired along with several new employees in an effort to jumpstart Midwest Television, Inc.’s online efforts for its San Diego properties , namely FM pop radio station STAR 100.7, talk radio station KFMB-AM and television station KFMB-TV, Channel 8, a CBS affiliate. The former site was managed buy New York-based CBS’ service, Minjares said.

Illinois-based Midwest also launched a Web site called ShowMeSanDiego, which is an online resource for movies, classifieds, articles on entertainment and lifestyle in San Diego.

& #711; On-Air Stories

Digitized Daily

The Channel 8 site operates under the philosophy that local residents at work all day don’t have access to a television but do have Internet access, Minjares said.

The stories that go on the air are digitized daily by Web content producers, weekend teams and evening crews, she said.

The stories are taken off on-air scripts or revised by the reporter or a online producer, she said.

The site also emphasizes features by consumer reporter Bob Hansen and the “Unknown Eater” restaurant reviews. The consumer installments are the site’s most popular spot, she said.

Most Web sites measure their activity by “unique users,” which means the number of different individuals who visit a site within a specific time period, according to AdResource, a Web site with information about Internet marketing and promotion.

In September, the KFMB-TV site had 52,000 unique users and about 11,000 hits a day, Minjares said. The numbers are up from August, when there were 48,000 unique users and 9,500 hits daily, she said.

Counting the number of visitors, or hits, are ways that the sites can sell advertising.

& #711; Advertisers Need

Effective System

The need to determine the effectiveness of Web advertising is nothing new. Recent reports in magazines such as Information Week and Brandweek say that the attention paid to Internet marketing, such as banner ads that link to a company’s Web site, is declining , and advertisers say they need a system to determine how effective it really is.

SignOnSanDiego is taking a more active approach, and assisting advertisers in overall Internet marketing efforts to ensure success, said Carmella Spencer, online site sales manager.

“For us, we are seeing the same sort of trend,” she said of the lowered attention to the ads.

Spencer said that online advertisers need to be careful about where their ad is placed and how they promote their site.

SignOnSanDiego now has an Internet marketing team that works with clients to promote their Web sites and the creation of their online advertising.

“So, it’s a combined effort now, whereas before they would just slap a banner up and it was a novelty for people,” Spencer said. “The novelty has worn off.”

According to Ad Resource, ‘Net advertising often sells at a “cost per thousand impressions” scale. Impressions are when a visitor to a Web site views a page where an ad is displayed, whether or not the ad is seen, according to AdResource.

At SignOnSanDiego, prices haven’t changed in a year, Spencer said. Certain heavy traffic pages pull in higher rates, she said.

Advertising on the site is costs an average of $30 per 1,000 impressions, she said.

According to Loomis, the Transcript has generally maintained its rates of $17.50 per 1,000 page impressions since its inception.

It’s easier to sell Web ads now because most businesses in the financial position to buy ads feel that they need to have a Web presence, Loomis said.

However, he noted of the market, “There’s no doubt that in general, with the proliferation of sites, the price has gone down, in general.

“What has made advertising harder here are the number of sites that have come on in the last couple years and are literally willing to give advertising away at extremel

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