Jack Stephen Cates - The net Competition to Save newspapers

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When beleaguered operatives from top newspaper corporations met at a Chicago airfield hotel in late May, they decided they needed a savior - that is, a tech company to help them work out methods to make money on the internet. Letters inviting solutions went out to ten firms, and in July the replies discreetly rolled in. Google's offer accidentally showed up online Sept. 9, sparking a sea of media reports about Google's plan to save papers.
But what of the other companies that gave concepts, starting from established powers in the tech world like IBM and Microsoft to such up-and-comers as YouData and Journalism Online?

'There's certainly a potential for one of these corporations to become the most well liked and reign over the field, and that is's especially true if their technology and business structure envisions some sort of a multisite pass,' says Rich Gordon, director of digital invention at the Medill faculty of Journalism.
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Google has an edge over the other contenders since it already has the technology available. Google's latest proposal entails expanded use of its Checkout product, which now lets users shop across the Web but sign in in one place. Its newspaper platform would include a similar single sign-on where users could peruse content from different paperspapers for one cost.

But Google's relationship with newspapers is a bit stressed, mainly thanks to the way Google reports currently distributes paper content - effectively diverting readers away from individual reports sites by allowing them to scan reports and story shorts without leaving Google. However [*COMMA] on Sept. 16, Google tried to mend fences with newspapers by launching Fast Flip, a hot news center that permits readers to scan thru participating paperspapers, but gives those papers a chunk of the money from adverts placed round the site.
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Another proposal comes from Journalism Online, a pay-for-news company whose founders include Steven Brill, the former editor of Content, and L. Gordon Crovitz, a former publisher of the WSJ. The company's proposal would offer an outlet for stories from many suppliers, but would let them decide which parts of their content should go behind a pay wall and how much to charge. Unlike Google Journalism Online's platform remains in development. Another offer from MyWire's global reports Service, owned by Louis Borders ( the founder of Borders Books ), would also organize content from participating papers behind a pay wall, but it uses existing technology.

Microsoft, the other big-time company that, like Google, already has the technology available to implement a pay wall, also proposes aggregating info from many news sources in one pay-to-play location. The firm's proposal emphasizes user preferences and hopes to make the content accessible from any device, both on- and off-line. Yahoo is alleged to be readying an idea also but has not yet given any details.
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So who will win? Randy Coats, vice chairman of interactive for Scripps Howard newspapers, will make the choice for his thirteen newspapers. He suspects that tech corporations that base their offers on existing tools stand the best chance ; Google is the favorite, he adds, because of its proven history in monetizing online content. 'This is way too important for us to be trusting vaporware.'

It is hard to tell what payoff would go to the winning technology supplier, says Gordon, nor is it even known who would own the content. There's also the problem of whether the diverse pay-for-content concepts would fly with clients. Google chairperson Eric Schmidt latterly told Brit broadcasting executives that charging for online content will not work except for niche and specialist markets. Consumer surveys have a tendency to support those doubts. A Belden Interactive survey released in mid-September discovered that PC users who said they'd pay for reports online would shell out an average of only $4.64 a month, while 47% of the group surveyed claimed they would not pay anything.

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Jack Stephen Cates

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