The problem of information by Internet touches many areas
and calls into question well-established economic principles.
There are approximately 1,500 official press sites on
the Web (daily papers, magazines, newsletters), although
by the time you read this, the number will have slightly
increased. But few of them seem to have truly understood
the Internet revolution. Very often these sites are boring
shop windows, sometimes including an extract of the day's
edition. It is useless to point out that these sites have
a limited effect, both from an internal point of view
(they don't help prepare their employees for the information
society revolution) and from an external point of view
(these sites are sparsely visited and record few regular
visitors). The Wall Street Journal, La Tribune Desfossés
and Les Echos are among the pioneers, and demonstrate
how it is possible to play the virtual card intelligently.
The Wall Street Journal was one of the first and few
papers to put the whole of its daily edition on line.
Initially, access was completely free for all visitors.
This allowed the site to become known, to identify its
readers (to obtain free access to the daily edition, a
form had to be completed) and to increase reader loyalty.
First programmed in mid-1996, a paying access system was
set up towards the end of that year. Out of the 400,000
readers who completed the form, only 40,000 agreed to
subscribe (50$ a year) in order to continue to receive
online access. Although this figure might seem disappointing,
it should be seen in the context of classic direct marketing
campaigns (between 1% and 3%). There is another reason
why the Wall Street Journal figures as a world-wide example
: it is one of the only publications to have decided to
install the team responsible for its website right next
to its news room.
The Tribune Desfossés has been present on the
Web since 1995, but its site is of limited interest :
although the whole of the daily paper was available, visitors
were put off by its user-unfriendly interface, which devalued
its content. Since November 1996, a completely redesigned
interface and a real communication project (including
real value-added services : discussion groups with experts,
key-word research possible from several years' archives,
stock exchange information, business advice ...) has made
this site one of the most successful and ambitious among
the French and European press.
There remains the delicate question of feasibility. Although
there are numerous sources of income (subscriptions, advertising,
small ads, archives, professional services ...), no pattern
seems to be emerging. The figures are encouraging : 36%
of American newspapers reported that they had run an economically
viable Internet activity during 1996, or intended to do
so in 1997 (source : NAA, Newspaper Association of America)
; 24% forecast a break-even point within the next four