Forbes.com introduced a feature yesterday that lets site users receive e-mail alerts on companies, people or topics that interest them.
Visitors sign up by entering an e-mail address in a box accompanying stories on Forbes.com. Users registered for that service get e-mails each time the selected subject is mentioned in a Forbes.com article.
“It is better to get more information, more timely than less information, less timely except when it becomes overwhelming and useless,” said Jim Spanfeller, president/CEO of Forbes.com, New York.
The alerts are a prelude to a Forbes.com initiative that will let users personalize the home page and news coverage by industry or interest.
While a common practice for high-end news sites, Forbes.com claims its alerts feature is narrower and more contextual. It will not just restrict choices to industry or broader subjects, but also preselected popular topics and newsmakers and executives in public companies.
Users can unsubscribe by clicking on the relevant link in any news alert e-mail. Of course, users have to be prepared to receive a raft of e-mails if the subject or topic is featured frequently in Forbes.com articles.
“What we're trying to do is find a happy medium between editorial screening and individual preselected screening,” Spanfeller said. “The more targeted you get, the more the end user benefits.”
Forbes.com has 720,000 registered users who submitted e-mail addresses to access all the news on the site. However, the site attracts about 3.5 million unique visitors monthly.
The commercial application of the alerts service in the form of targeted ads will follow once momentum builds. Spanfeller hopes eventually to attract 750,000 to 1 million registrants for the alerts.
“The more ability you have to place advertisements in front of prequalified eyeballs, the better the offering for your marketing partners,” he said.
Forbes.com is devising packages for the alerts service but “we're a firm believer that editorial drives the train,” he said.
But Forbes.com's alerts are in line with industry attempts to introduce features with revenue possibilities. Except for The Wall Street Journal's wsj.com service, few publishers charge for access to their site.
But that is changing. London's Financial Times is working on plans to charge users for yearly access to FT.com. Another British paper, The Times, is preparing to charge casual users of thetimes.co.uk on their monthly cell phone bill. France's Le Monde soon will introduce subscriptions for premium news offerings on lemonde.fr.
Aside from that, online publishers are creating bigger, more interactive display ads and cross-media packages. Premium sponsorship offerings versus commodity cost-per-thousand banner buys are becoming popular, too.
Syndication, archives, classifieds and extending content across other channels like wireless and video on demand are other revenue streams that contribute to the bottom line.
Many publishers know that selling ads online based on the direct response click-through appeal is not enough. So there is a trend to convince advertisers that online should be measured on the same terms as radio, television and print.
Some publishers look inward to see whether they can leverage existing assets. Forbes.com built the alerts feature based on feedback generated by two popular products, the people tracker and the portfolio tracker. The people tracker has information on 130,000 newsmakers and public-company executives who appeared in Forbes.com articles.
Not surprisingly, among those who signed up to receive people tracker alerts are the CEOs, media and human resource executives.