MEDIA: NEWSPAPERS ON E-COMMERCE - Electric dreams become a firm reality/Newspapers are making their on-line presence felt with magazines and sections aimed at the general reader, for whom e-business is now big business

There is something ironic in the way traditional newspapers are all hastily putting together new sections about the internet and e-commerce - a bit like the canal companies helping to build the railway lines during the last industrial revolution.

There is something ironic in the way traditional newspapers are all

hastily putting together new sections about the internet and e-commerce

- a bit like the canal companies helping to build the railway lines

during the last industrial revolution.

The digital revolution of which the internet and e-commerce are a big

part, is a transport revolution in the same way - with information as

the new coal - and publishers are wisely matching their editorial

coverage of the internet with the development of on-line presences of

their own.

The current rush to publish newspaper sections on e-commerce - both the

FT and the Guardian started last week - reflects this duality of


On the one hand, it is a hot topic and therefore has a legitimate place

in the paper, on the other hand e-commerce is an obvious market for the

advertising from which publishers derive revenue, and one in which they

want to stay on top.

Aside from this commonality of purpose, there are few similarities in

the approach of the three newspapers involved so far, except perhaps

that all three can claim a degree of radicalism.

The Guardian and the Pearson Group (which publishes the Financial Times

in the UK) are both looking at the subject from the point of view of


The Guardian is perhaps making the boldest move - defining a large

proportion of its business stories as e-commerce stories, and grouping

them together accordingly.

The paper points to a happy coincidence of interest as part of its

rationale for devoting a page to the sector four days a week. The City

wants to get closer to the young media or technology exiles who are now

e-entrepreneurs, and those developers themselves now need finance


Pearson is taking the more conventional route of publishing a

supplementary magazine on the subject. The pan-European coverage of its

business papers, however, chimes nicely with the cross-border nature of

e-commerce, allowing it to claim a unique position in this new


The Sunday Times is looking at the subject of e-commerce and the

internet more broadly, and from the point of view of consumers, rather

than business.

More radically, the paper is trying to define the subject in relation to

content, rather than technology. Focusing on content allows the

positioning within the paper’s Culture magazine, hence attracting

readers who might find a technical focus off-putting.


Format: Section within Culture magazine published with the Sunday


Started: 10 October

Frequency: weekly

’One of the things we decided at the start was to address techno-fear

and avoid jargon. We also put it within the Culture section of the paper

- the thinking was not to look like a section for computer geeks, but to

make the general reader feel at home with technology.

We are a general interest newspaper so we want to appeal across all ages

although I guess we are really thinking most about the mid-30s


’I think some similar sections in other papers become dull because they

are too specialist, too closely focused. We are trying to take a more

general interest approach - looking at the cultural boom the digital

revolution represents. Although shopping on-line is in its infancy,

e-commerce is fundamentally important to the whole thing so every week

there is some aspect of it we look at.

’We try to be as practical as we can. This week we have a piece on

Christmas shopping on-line, next week we are doing a piece about buying

on-line medical advice. To tie-in with being in the Culture section we

are also doing a lot about the kinds of art you can buy on-line from

smaller galleries and dealers. Eventually of course e-commerce will

become much more important as it is part of how the publishing business

makes its money.’


Format: A4 magazine published with the Financial Times and other

Pearson-owned financial publications across Europe.

Started: 26 Nov

Frequency: bi-monthly

’We think there is a huge demand for information about e-commerce and

e-business from all sections of the readership. It is a truly

pan-European story and since we are a pan-European group it is a great

opportunity to have all the newspapers working together. Everyone can

see that e-commerce is a big revolution in business, it is already

happening in the US and it is beginning to happen in Europe.

’Our readers will not be professionals from the internet world, they

will be from any area of business and they will be beginning to wonder

whether their own company should be involved. The purpose is to help

managers think through the implications of e-business.

’We have 68 pages in an A4 format and three sections:

business-to-business; management of e-businesses, and on-line consumer

businesses. It has a print run of 650,000. We do not feel like we have

any direct competition, because our USP is that we are in so many

languages. There are all sorts of stories that will help managers

realise how important it is.

’We have stories about new e-businesses, and venture capital risk, and

the impact on the banking industry of e-business. It is difficult to see

what will happen in the future, things are moving so fast with the



Format: A page in the Guardian City section

Started: 23 Nov

Frequency: every week day except Monday

’The internet is changing the way all business operates, so it is not

difficult to do a page a day. We are also looking to develop regular

daily coverage which is tightly focused on net start-ups and this

extraordinary new culture of entrepreneurship, focusing on the people

who are throwing themselves into these new businesses.

’Newspapers are not really geared up for these stories, some of us are

having to change our perceptions and learn pretty quickly, but as a

paper we have been very lucky. Two years ago we were not really

considered a City paper but suddenly the focus of the City has shifted

in our direction as we have developed the young, hip readership that

works in these growth sectors. At the same time, these young people are

suddenly reading the City pages to find out if they can get finance.

’After 12 years covering the City I am seeing a world of business PR

that I did not know existed. I think the PR industry is going through

the same sort of radical change that we are - the City PROs are picking

up e-business, and there is a whole load of traditionally

technologically-focused PRs who are advising companies about joining the

stock market.

I see technological PR combining with elements of consumer PR as a

result of the web.’

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