New York Times Digital, 10 Others to Start Web Publishers Group

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A consortium of 11 big-name publishing industry executives, led by New York Times Digital CEO Martin Nisenholtz, are banding together to launch the Online Publishers Association today.


The mission of the OPA, according to acting executive director Michael Zimbalist, is to "advance the interests of high-quality online publishers" in front of advertisers, the press and government.


"We want to become the voice of quality content sites on matters of the First Amendment, intellectual property and other important issues," Zimbalist said.


Besides New York Times Digital, the founding members of the OPA include CBS MarketWatch, CNET Networks, CondeNet, ESPN.com, The Industry Standard, Knight-Ridder Interactive, Salon.com, USAToday.com, WashingtonPost.com and WSJ.com.


While the founding members of the OPA also are members of the Interactive Advertising Bureau -- indeed a number of them are on the IAB's board of directors -- Zimbalist said he does not see the OPA as being in competition with the IAB, which also represents online publishers.


"We have a complementary mission to the IAB," Zimbalist said. "There is intense loyalty to these sites on the part of the consumers they serve. We will send a message to consumers that even though the industry is in transition, these brands are here to stay."


There has been speculation that the OPA is being formed out of dissatisfaction with the IAB and its representation of publishers. According to a published report, the founding members of the OPA reportedly are unhappy with the direction in which IAB CEO Robin Webster is taking the organization, particularly the potential for a change to the membership fee structure.


However, the IAB discounted the report as unfounded.


"This is not the first time members went off on their own to form an organization," said Stu Ginsburg, a spokesman for the IAB. "I honestly don't know what they hope to accomplish because they haven't said anything about it yet."


Ginsburg said the IAB, which was founded in 1996 as a volunteer organization, is trying to transform itself into a professional trade group for Internet publishers -- and that takes money.


"Every professional organization has a dues structure," he said. "There's no adversarial relationship here."


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