where "word of keystroke" begins

September 24, 1998 -- On-line publishing and getting paid for content

Transcript of the live chat session that took place Thursday, September 24, 1998. These sessions are normally scheduled for 12 noon-1 PM Eastern Time every Thursday. Please note that the US is now on Daylight Savings Time. So in international terms, we are on at GMT -4 instead of GMT -5.

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Since the chat itself happens at a rapid pace, it's often difficult to note interesting facts in particular URLs as they appear on-line. Here's a place to take a more leisurely look. I've rearranged some of the pieces to try to capture the various threads of discussion (which sometimes get lost in the rush of live chat).

Please send email with your follow-on questions and comments, and suggestions for topics we should focus on in future sessions. So long as the volume of email responses is manageable, I'll post the most pertinent ones here for all to see.

Threads (reconstructed after the fact):

Today's participants


Richard Seltzer -- We'll be starting in about half an hour (noon Eastern Time in the US). As you connect, please let us know who you are and what your interests are. That will help us get off to a fast start.

Sudha Jamthe -- Hi Richard: Good to be back! What's today's topic?

Richard Seltzer -- Today we want to
1) continue our discussion about on-line publishing and how to get paid for content
2) begin to discuss the present and future role of agents/robots/crawlers
3) get suggestions for future topics.

Richard Seltzer -- Hi, Sudha -- long time no "see." Yes, we've been on "break" for about 2 months. In that time, I spent a few weeks at the Cape and then went on several speaking trips (including a trip to Argentina).

Todd -- Hello. I'm a developer at Compaq (formerly DEC). I'm most interested in the Web as a publishing medium.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Todd. When you say "publishing medium", do you mean just text or multi-media as well? And are you also involved with the related payment mechanisms (e.g., micropayments)? And are you doing any tie-ins with print-on-demand publishing?

Todd -- I think of publishing as multi-media. In fact, I'm interested in presenting information in forms not feasible before the Web. (that is, dynamic.) I'm not involved with micropayments. I'm skeptical people will be willing to pay (particularly with a "meter running" scheme) when there is so much free info.

Richard Seltzer -- Todd -- I have similar misgivings about micropayments for text content. I'm looking for the killer application. Just plain text should probably be free, but for multi-media maybe there is a niche -- maybe it's the interactive multi-media tie-in, along the lines of on-line interactive games (which might be based on traditional books/stories.

Richard Seltzer -- Hello, Katie, please introduce yourself and let us know your interests.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Milton Kassner. Please introduce yourself and let us know your interests. We're here to talk about Business on the WWW -- in particular, today on-line publishing and also the role of Internet agents. But we're open to other related topics as well.

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, Laura, please introduce yourself and let us know your interests.

Laura -- Hello. I sorta embody all the interests involved in eletronic publishing - librarian, author, publisher.

Richard Seltzer -- Laura -- "author" -- what's your full name? any titles we might have seen in print or on-line? What's your experience in using the Web as author and publisher? Do you get paid for your content on-line? If so, how?

Laura -- I'm nobody famous and in fact it's my husband that does the authoring (I'm really the editor). We have a small press devoted to publishing alternative poetry (a side venture) called Storm Grove Press. My husband does have one of his printed books available online for free at

Bob Zwick -- Hello everyone. Bob here, independent consultant in Dallas area and moderator of the DE Chat at

Richard Seltzer -- Welcome, eumesmo. We're just now winding up. (It's 12:52 PM here in Boston). Please introduce yourself, let us know your interests, and let us know what topic would be most interesting to you for next Thursday. 

Aspects of on-line publishing -- agents, media search, micropayments, print-on-demand, dynamic content

Richard Seltzer -- Related to publishing and also to on-line agents, do any of you know of any sites that have begun to use XML markup? The standard was adopted some months ago, is anyone using it or planning to do so soon? What's your take on the value or lack of it? (I can imagine it giving new life to the concept of personal agents. For now, most folks rely on search engines which use agents/crawlers to gather information from the Internet -- it's a lot quicker to go to the search engine and check its index than to send your own agent to wander forever among millions of Web pages looking for the content you want. But with XML, the very specific tags might make personal agents (or agent-based finding services) very useful.)

Richard Seltzer -- Todd -- By the way, have you tried Media Vista? (That's a search engine for finding the content you want in audio and video files -- there has been a beta version of that running inside Compaq/Digital and I believe that the AltaVista site put up a trial version for searching through the Clinton testimony videotape. If you've used it, what is your take on its usefulness and its likely role?

Richard Seltzer -- Regarding on-line publishing, I'm very interested in finding out who is using micropayments (software that enables on-line payment in small sums, without directly using credit cards) to charge for content. This is technology that has been around, in various forms, for several years. It seems to have enormous potential, but I haven't seen it take off. I'd like to know what publishers (if any) are using it successfully -- what are the benefits? what are the problems? what has been holding it back? is it ready to take off? what consequences could this have for on-line publishing?

Richard Seltzer -- Also, related to publishing, I just got a promotional email message from These folks are tying the Internet together with on-demand book printing and putting together what looks like a very low cost version of vanity publishing. I'm not sure if their particular blend of technologies/business models is a winner. But something along this line does make sense.

Todd -- A couple pointers that may be of interest: This one has a new spin on multi-media. It's graphical, but in a way that can't be duplicated on paper. http://www/ This one publishes results from the current Tour of Spain bicycle race. The server gets swamped, so you may need to wait til Europe goes to sleep before you get a response. It has an online contest were readers pick each day's winner. It's a great way to build a community

Richard Seltzer -- Todd -- Thanks for the pointers. Please email me more at if you have them. (Similar, might be the way that does baseball games, where a Java applet gives you continuous updates on games in progress. That's dynamic rather than static content. And, actually, that would probably be a good candidate for micropayments. 

How do you turn visitors into money?

Todd -- I have a question about publishing business models. Clearly, publishers (defined broadly) see their goal as generating visits. What I don't understand is how they are going to turn visitors into money. The Wall St. Journal seems successful with subscriptions (though I don't know how much money they make), and some are using ad $, though again, I don't know if their profitable. Any info on this?

Richard Seltzer -- Todd, some sites seem determined to make money from selling banner ads. I don't believe that that is a particularly good model. (I never click on banners myself, in fact, I automatically tune them out -- my eye simply doesn't see flashy color). Subscriptions probably work only in those instances where the publisher has a well established brand in traditional publishing, and is making tie-ins between the traditional and the on-line product. Others just use their Web-presence to promote sales of their traditional product (either with on-line transactions or links to stores like Amazon or encouraging customers to look for the books, etc. at traditional stores). Others provide lots of information, for instance about investments/stocks, and make their money from getting you to use their related services. For individual writers, the Web is a great tool for helping them get known, to build reputation, but there doesn't seem to be any direct/immediate payback. It's not an easy question -- that's why I find it interesting.

Laura -- Todd, many archived online papers charge fees for older back issues. I think there is a lot of money to be had there, although the work to put it online, store it and administer those services can be pretty high.

Richard Seltzer -- Laura, I'd be curious to find out whether the work of storing back articles (typically in databases) and setting up to charge for it ever gets paid for by the charges. How much revenue are we talking about? Keep in mind that the alternative -- storing the back articles as plain text pages, with no maintenance, no fancy technology, and not charging would mean that all that content of theirs could be indexed by AltaVista and other search engines, potentially driving lots of traffic to their sites. I have a suspicion that the added traffic might be of greater benefit than the profit (if any) that they are getting from the fees they charge.

Laura -- some of those newspapers (esp here in Florida) like the Miami Herald charge a flat rate per article no matter what the length. They do give you a few lines free, but if you want the full article - even if it's only one more word (a short clip) - you still pay the same amount. That to me seems pretty lucrative, though I have no real basis to make a factual judgement on that.

Richard Seltzer -- Laura, getting paid for articles is only lucrative if significant numbers of people are willing to pay. It would be great to get some stats.

Todd -- What about say Time magazine online. Don't you think something like this would eventually make money the same way the print version does? I could offer electronic seaching and more immediacy than the print version, and save the publisher paper, printing and delivery costs. Any idea how profitable something like USA Today online is? I heard the money maker in traditional publishing is the classifieds.

Richard Seltzer -- Todd -- I also would like to get some numbers on the costs and revenues and profitability of things like Time magazine online and USA Today online. Unfortunately, those numbers tend to be aggregated with other pieces of those companies in any financial statements. Today, I believe, I can read most (if not all) of the content of Time Magazine on-line for free; but instead I read it in print (and probably will continue to do so, until Internet access devices are so cheap and convenient that everyone has one in the bathroom). Brand name publishers like Time-Warner and USA Today seem to be depending on banner advertising for revenue -- which might possibly work for the moment for them, because of their size and their visibility in the traditional world as well as on-line. But for smaller publishers, that's not really an option. 

Small-press experience on the Web

Richard Seltzer -- Laura -- Have you seen any tangible benefits from making that novel available for free over the Internet?

Laura -- As far as tangible benefits for putting the text on the web: yes, we have gotten a LOT more orders for the printed product from doing so.

Richard Seltzer -- Laura -- Can you quantify "a LOT"? (I have heard anecdotally that posting the full text of a book on the Web can increase sales of the printed book by 30%, for traditional publishers. For a small, little known publisher the benefit might be much greater.)

Laura -- When I worked for the Association of Research Libraries, I brought out a hybrid print/electronic product and it was a challenge to recover those costs, but we did it by subscription and it worked well.
It probably has increased by that 30% figure though, being more of a side venture, we don't really keep hard stats on things. But we indeed have gotten an increase in sales and an increase in submissions from other authors.

Richard Seltzer -- Laura -- are you looking for submissions from other authors? or is that just an nuisance to you? if you are looking for submissions, what are you looking for?

Laura -- We don't mind getting submissions as long as they fit the genre we specialize in. As you can see though from the website, most of our other authors have stuff available online. Poetry is really a dying art and there isn't much money to be had in it.

Richard Seltzer -- Laura -- yes, poetry is tough in the print world where the costs of publishing are high and you almost never break even. but on-line, if your objective is to be read, to build an audience, rather than to get paid, the opportunities are great. (I've posted some of my own poetry along with that of some friends at my own Web site, along with lots and lots of other stuff.)

Bob Zwick -- Laura, are your submission guidelines published on the Web ?

Laura -- I don't think they are (this is more of Christopher's venture than mine) but I think he expects people to self-select whether they fit in by looking at the kinds of materials we put up or link to.

Richard Seltzer -- Laura -- Is Storm Grove Press strictly print publications? Or do you use the Web as well? If the Web, do you charge to read your content? Or does posting the content on the Web help drive sales of print editions? (How many titles do you have?)

Laura -- Christopher's 2nd book is already on the website before it has gone to print. I think we would like to see it more electronic based, but he is still building a readership and we have not implemented any cost-recovery mechanisms yet. 

Writers and publishers newsletter

Bob Zwick -- ALL - FYI There is a mailing list that seems to be populated by publishers and writers which posts requests for articles called "Writers and Publishers Connection" Newsletter. I believe it is a manual list and can be subscribed to by sending an email to The latest issue can be previewd at my
Writers Forum at 

Future topics?

Richard Seltzer -- All -- one of my objectives today is to get a sense of what people are interested in discussing in future weeks. So far today I haven't heard much interest in agents (aside from me). There may still be some aspects of publishing (especially multi-media publishing) that we could/should explore. I'm also interested in revisiting on-line communities -- what tools are most useful today for building on-line communities? why are so few companies building them when they seem so natural and necessary? how can large companies that sell their products through channels use the Web/communities to build relationships with their end customers? etc. Any interest in that?

Richard Seltzer -- All -- how's about a vote among those here assembled. For next week do you want to:

continue the discussion of on-line publishing?

take a look at agents?

take a look at today's micropayments offerings?

look at tools for building communities and model communities of today

Laura -- micropayments or stay w/ online publishing

Bob Zwick -- agents

Richard Seltzer -- Todd -- have we hit on aspects of on-line publishing that relate to your development work? what have we missed?

Todd -- I'm most interested in web publishing

Richard Seltzer -- So far, I'm hearing publishing as the topic for next week (with the understanding that robot agents and micropayments could be very important for the future of on-line publishing -- we need to better understand how they are used today and how that might evolve). And let's try to hear some more about dynamic publishing -- the content that changes on the fly as events unfold. 


Richard Seltzer -- All -- please send me followup email with your preferences for future topics and also your additional comments for inclusion with the transcript. As usual, I'll post the edited transcript from this session in the next day or two. Check

Richard Seltzer -- All, before you signoff today, please post your email and URL addresses so I can include them with the transcript (don't count on the software to have captured that).

Todd --

Laura --

Bob Zwick -- One last resource pointer before we close for the day: The Writers Guild of America
Richard Seltzer -- Thanks to all. Please spread the word and join us again next Thursday, same time, same place. 

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