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Rocketboard Eyes New Internet Users With Free Keyboard

Rocketboard Inc., New York, will target new Internet users when it starts offering its Web keyboard for the price of shipping next week. The firm wants to distribute as many as 100,000 keyboards within its first year, as it looks to generate revenue from purchases made by Rocketboard owners.

The keyboard, which will be available at www.rocketboard.com, features 18 keys that can link to more than 300 Web merchants that have varying sales-based agreements with Rocketboard. The company has been doing pre-marketing research since early last year.

“Our primary goal is to get Rocketboards in people’s hands,” said CEO Peter Sulick.

In December, Sulick said his company planned to target senior citizens with the board. The firm tested its product at a computer laboratory at the North Shore Towers retirement community in Glen Oaks, NY.

He recently downplayed his firm’s marketing plans for senior citizens, saying it also conducted several other tests last year for ways to target a keyboard replacement market of 4 million. Sulick said market tests have shown that a lucrative market will be computer users who have been online for less than six months. He said cost of delivery of the product would run $7.95.

“We think it’s attractive to anyone who wants an easy-to-use keyboard,” Sulick said. “There isn’t any one group that we’re focusing on right now.”

Michele Pelino, an analyst for the Boston-based Internet marketing and consulting firm Yankee Group, said the keyboard would be appealing to new Web users because it was practically free.

“There should really be an appeal to the mom or the grandma who is just catching on to the Internet,” she said. “The links will be an easy way of getting started with the e-commerce thing. The board will also give them the chance to get on the popular sites that they hear other people talking about.”

An undisclosed number of non-changeable buttons will come preprogrammed for the Web sites of firms under contract with Rocketboard. Users can reprogram one of the remaining buttons for a categorically similar e-tail location by holding it down for three seconds. A site box then appears listing the other available sites, which can be chosen by clicking a mouse-operated arrow on the desired listing. For instance, a Rocketboard user can change the “books” button from one affiliate book site to another.

America Online Inc., Barnes & Noble Inc. and CDnow Inc. have signed agreements to have buttons on the keyboards. AOL will get three non-changeable keys with its deal, and the Dulles, VA-based firm also will do cross-marketing with Rocketboard – as opposed to paying a sales percentage like the Web merchants.

Rocketboard plans to create a co-branded keyboard with AOL as well as with other companies in the future. AOL spokeswoman Julie Mason said that Rocketboard would increase the portal’s membership, adding that her firm sees Internet beginners like senior citizens as a new market.

“We’re always looking for ways to expand our audience,” she said, “and this gives us a good opportunity to target incoming Internet users.”

Pelino of the Yankee Group said the Rocketboard/AOL co-branding initiative was a likely precursor to marketing strategies by firms that offer portable Internet devices.

“What Rocketboard’s doing is interesting and will probably be used for Palm Pilots and cell phones,” she said, “but I don’t think we’ll see a lot of similar marketing with traditional computer components in the future.”

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