Forbes Expands News Frontier to Wireless

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Wireless news delivery is the new frontier for Forbes.com.


The New York publisher is offering the latest business and investment news directly to personal digital assistants or cell phones. The fee-based service targets busy executives.


"It's becoming the next-generation media of record for business news, information and analysis," Forbes.com CEO Jim Spanfeller said.


Called Forbes.com Wireless, the service has been introduced slowly to the news site's readership. Potential subscribers have 13 options including cellular service providers Alltel, AT&T Wireless, Cingular Wireless, Nextel, Sprint PCS, Telus Mobility and Verizon Wireless.


The service also is available through packages on Compaq iPaq, Palm i705, Forbes.com Productivity Pack and PDA downloads, and Audible.com. It is supported by SmartServ's technology. All revenue generated is shared with partners.


Forbes.com recently concluded a test ad campaign with SmartServ and Verizon Wireless to recruit subscribers. The effort, banners on Forbes.com and a listing on Verizon's site, was for the Verizon Wireless Get It Now promotion. For $4.99 a month, users can access stock quotes, indexes and breaking business news or even set up a personal watch list.


The offer, still ongoing, to download Forbes.com Wireless to the Verizon Wireless Get It Now-enabled cell phone includes a chance to win a Hewlett-Packard notebook computer, Compaq iPaq PDA or color cell phone. Consumers click on that tab on forbes.com/wireless.


Spanfeller did not disclose the numbers signed up or the total wireless subscribers Forbes.com has garnered. But his hopes are more grounded.


"Quite frankly, I don't see a huge uptick here in the next three or four months," he said. "But I do think in five, six or seven months from now, based on our research about wireless usage among business executives, we'll start to see significant numbers. And obviously we share in the revenue that's generated in subscription fees for these types of access programs."


Recent research by Forbes.com among its users showed that 36 percent of respondents were interested in subscribing to business-related news delivered through their cell phones. Fifty-one percent said they would sign up for general news and services, and 24 percent for entertainment and commerce news and services.


Of those interested in receiving business news via their cell phones, 20 percent said they were willing to pay more than $1 a month.


The research found that 91 percent of Forbes.com users own a cell phone and about 10 percent have advanced features on those instruments. Respondents said they spend $59 a month on their cell phone, slightly higher than the $54 average monthly cell phone bill in the United States.


The United States has 90 million cell phone users, according to various industry estimates.


So how critical is wireless to Forbes.com's future?


"I think this year's more of an experimentation," Spanfeller said. "If this gains velocity, we'll see. What really matters to us is what we're doing on the personalization front. That's how it's going to justify itself after the infrastructure folks figure out a) the pricing model; b) the distribution; c) the technology backbone to it all.


"We've got to figure out ways to clearly pinpoint information needs by individual user," he said. "It's still up in the air. There's a lot of money, a lot of betting thrown against wireless and heretofore not come to fruition."


But he said potential remains for wireless technologies. Take chipmaker Intel. The company's new chip shipping after the first quarter has wireless functionality built in.


"All that stuff is going to make wireless a very key portion of our future and everyone's future," he said. "And, in this day, it's not going to be dissimilar from where the Web was. It becomes the story initially, then it becomes the infrastructure and backbone on a long-term basis."


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