The County Wide Web
MONDAY, April 8
The World Wide Web has proved a tough environment to make a buck in. So some
publishers are looking toward the Local Web as a more friendly place.
Case in point: _The Los Angeles Times_ is launching its Web service today.
Harry Chandler, director of new media at the Times, spoke on a panel I
moderated at Networld+Interop in Las Vegas last week. Given his comment that
"Almost all publishers who are online -- either on the Internet or one of the
online services -- are losing money," one has to wonder why he's going ahead
"It's a place we need to experiment in," Chandler says. "And it's an audience
we want to reach."
Then there's the threat of losing out on classified ad revenues to some Web
site developer who figures out how to put up Southern California's classifieds
in an inexpensive, searchable format. "Rather than sit and wait for it, we're
trying to lead it," Chandler says. "If you have to compete, you might as well
compete with yourself."
The Times once ran a service on Prodigy, but left in December, in part due to
the service's lagging membership numbers, but also due to the tough and
somewhat limiting production process. Chandler wanted to be on multiple
platforms, but each online service has its own coding system; Prodigy's is
called T-Tops. "We had 15 people just re-purposing content, just to put it up
on Prodigy with those arcane tools -- that's a lot of work." Hopefully, HTML
will emerge as a standard within a year or so.
On the ground in LA, the Times dominates. It's only citywide competition, the
Herald-Examiner, folded in the late 1980s. But on the Web, it's just as easy
to access the New York Times, or the London Times for that matter, so what's
"It takes a little bit of rethinking about how you put your brand out, how
you attract the same kind of customer you're used to attracting on the
newsstand?" Chandler is trying a few things aimed at capitalizing on its
dominance in the Southern California market.
One is SoCal Excite, the first regionalized version of _Excite_'s search
engine. Chandler says 80% of all information (and most advertising revenue) is
local -- phonebooks, newspapers, affiliate and independent TV stations. "The
Internet tends to trivialize that local content, because it's a global medium.
We believe that defining and collateralizing local content is the next big
Second, Chandler says the Times will distribute a customized version of
_Pointcast_, the application that runs in a separate window on your desktop,
updating news with periodic downloads.
Third, he wants to establish their site as an aggregator of Southern
California Web sites, partnering with other local media, governments, and
libraries to build a "supra-site."
And what if a year from now, publishers look back at 1996 and find their
numbers aren't where they wanted, then what? Chandler's realistic: "Then I
think you're going to see a lot of people withdrawing from this online