Brill, Crovitz, Hindery Launch E-Commerce Venture For News Business

imageThe news business has problems and entrepreneur Steve Brill, former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz and cable guy-turned-investor Leo Hindery, Jr. think they have the answers. The three are founding Journalism Online, LLC, funded with an undisclosed amount by Hindery’s InterMedia Advisors, LLP, to provide news publishers with content-based e-commerce, data sharing for best practices and other revenue-generating solutions. (The photos show Crovitz, Hindery and Brill from left to right.)

In an interview with paidContent, Crovitz stressed that Journalism Online isn’t a consulting group and plans to offer products to publishers as well as work with them on strategy. Plans call for Journalism Online to be in the market with at least one e-commerce product by the fall; options include an all-you-can-read solution. They hope to work with newspapers, magazine, online-only publishers — in other words, anyone looking for a way to make money with news online. Crovitz said they have already held discussions with a number of publishers. Those conversations have included issues like what kind of e-commerce platforms they want to have, what they are willing to charge. (The company has since posted a detailed press release.)

Crovitz added: “We’re not saying everything should be behind a pay wall, not any more than we’re saying everything has to be free. … One of the opportunities is to help news publishers find those content services that for their brand will just justify the hybrid model.” The hybrid model didn’t work for Brill when he tried it in the earlier part of the decade by merging trade publications in an print/online effort at *Primedia* called Media Central. (I worked for two of those media outlets, Inside.com and CableWorld.) Why should it work now beyond the few sites already offering premium/free hybrids?

For one, says Crovitz, he thinks publishers are ready. “We now know a lot more about two things: Consumers are much more willing to conduct commerce digitally, [such as] buying music from iTunes, ringtones, virtual shields to play online video games. That issue that publishers thought people wouldn’t pay for services online has changed. The other thing that has changed is there are models of what has worked.” He listed ConsumerReports.org, WSJ.com and FT.com.

In an interview, Brill said he and Crovitz are co-CEOs for now but he envisions Crovitz winding up as the one who runs it. Brill also said news industry veteran Merrill Brown is working with the company as a consultant. Well-known litigator David Boies and Ted Olsen, a former U.S. Solicitor General, are on the board of advisors.

Brill detailed some of his thoughts on how to accomplish this in a memo about how to save the New York Times that wound up on Romenesko this year and reads like a prospectus for Journalism Online, including:

— making the headline and the first paragraph of every story free to preserve search results.

— Micropayments of 10 cents to read a full article or an all-day pass for 40 cents.

— A monthly pass for $7.50

— An annual pass for $55 with print subscribers getting the first year of full online access free, but possibly moving to 50 percent of the online price.

— Charge people 5 cents to forward an article unless the recipient already has a subscription. (This option isn’t mentioned in the venture’s initial offerings.)

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