APBnews.com Eyeballs the Profits of Celebrity, Crime

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APBnews.com has taken America's time-tested appetite for controversial public information - such as federal inquiries on celebrities and general police activity - and turned that curiosity into an avenue for online marketing.


Since its launch in 1998, www.apbnews.com has generated revenue by syndicating its stories and selling banner ads. APBnews.com, New York, has signed a handful of agreements in recent months, including a deal in February that made it a daily news provider for users of America Online Inc. Joe Krakoviak, vice president of communications, said his company would announce a broader e-commerce initiative in the coming weeks and it planned on making a profit by 2002.


"We started out building our journalistic enterprise first, and then we brought in sales and marketing people last December," he said. "Now we want to turn the eyeballs into business opportunities."


Krakoviak said APBnews.com plans to sign more advertising agreements like the one it penned with New York-based book publisher HarperCollins for the promotion of Lawrence Schiller's book "Perfect Murder, Perfect Town." The book is about the infamous, ongoing JonBenet Ramsey murder case in Boulder, CO, which APBnews.com has covered extensively.


"Journalistically, we abide by the difference between church and state," he said. "[The HarperCollins deal] makes sense because our readers are going to be interested in the book, but it has nothing to do with our coverage. Our content drives our business model."


APBnews.com mostly offers original and wire service news stories that range from hard news to subjects that are normally covered only by tabloid publications. However, Krakoviak said, the site's live audio broadcast of police scanners in 27 major cities and its series of published FBI files on notorious celebrities, such as Frank Sinatra, have developed its most loyal online following.


The "G-files" series offers scanned FBI documents on Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon and sexuality researcher Alfred Kinsey and will feature more once-confidential papers on celebrities as they become accessible from the agency. Krakoviak said his company has made more than 4,000 Freedom of Information requests of the federal government, and more than 2,000 remain outstanding. Part of his company's overall market niche is offering hard-to-get information, he said.


APBnews.com also offers a gallery of mug shots of past and contemporary entertainers being booked for criminal charges. Police activity and celebrity information are newsworthy to APBnews.com, Krakoviak said, as long as it can be related to the issues of crime, justice and safety.


"Frank Sinatra didn't become Frank Sinatra without people having great interest in him," said Krakoviak, who also noted that the Web site has won journalism awards for deadline reporting. "These stories involve the FBI and are of the highest interest to viewers who want to learn more about him. It's news."


Nielsen//NetRatings confirmed last week that APBnews.com generated more than 700,000 unique visitors in both the at-work and at-home categories in February. During the same period, the New York-based market research firm found that APBnews.com was ranked 24th among online advertisers for the at-home audience, having delivered 1.6 million ad impressions - with 13.4% of all people who accessed the Internet from home having viewed an APBnews.com banner.


APBnews.com is just one of a growing number of Web sites that are using the Internet to market crime-based information. Any search engine check on "arrest records" garners dozens of other matches - including Factsfinder.com, which sells pre-employment information to small to mid-size businesses and school districts.


"Most states only require schools to check teachers for in-state offenses," said president Phyllis Forister. "One of our bigger clients are schools and youth organizations because we can check nationwide. People are learning more about child predators that like to cross state lines."


Launched last June, www.factsfinder.com sells employee-background database software for up to $300, as it looks to tap into the employee fraud market that cost U.S. businesses more than $400 billion last year. Forister said her Edmonds, WA-based firm had yet to turn a profit - although orders were growing.
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