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Over 7,000 electronic newsletters and discussion lists are described on and <.../index.html>. TidBITS is #3 in circulation (with 26K subscribers and an estimated 150K readers); Mac*Chat varies around #14 (with 65K readers); and Info-Mac Digest is #28. The next most popular platform-specific list is the Windows 95 discussion, #65. Mac*Chat has only been on the Internet since last October, although it dates back to 11/89. [Tony Lindsey , Mac*Chat, 10/17/95. Also TidBITS, 10/2/95.]

From V5N30: "A critical test for net journalism: The Mac*Chat newsletter will be converting to a shareware/donation system of $10/year ($25 corporate). Tony Lindsey has been putting in 16 hours/week, and in five years the effort has brought her no more than five new consulting clients. [Mac*Chat, 8/9/95.] (If fewer than 3% pay, that's less than $20K/year. Increasing the price later would further drop the subscription rate. And fewer will pay in future years, when they're not rewarding the past years of free service. Of course, Lindsey might get 80% registrations, in which case the $520K/year for part-time work will draw a lot of other people to reader-supported net journalism.)"

I've edited that a bit, and corrected Tony's gender. Anyway, preliminary results are in. Hundreds of people have said they will contribute, but the actual returns were eleven $10 donations in the first week, eight in the next, and even fewer in the third week. Barely 0.03%. More donations will trickle in, but Internet campaigns tend to have half-lives of just a few days. Lindsey wants very much to continue her newsletter, but believes the Internet is not ready for paid subscription services. She has decided to support Mac*Chat with a companion Chat*Ads sponsored by "good, solid, reputable businesses." (Leads to such businesses are solicited.) The Utne Reader faced a similar crisis when it had to take in advertising, and the result was pretty good. See for the web version. [Mac*Chat, 9/22/95 and 10/10/95.] (But will Chat*Ads have a readership of 65K? Should you be able to subscribe to one without the other?)

Adam Engst has announced a similar solution for TidBITS: a biweekly advertising companion called DealBITS. To make it palatable, every ad must offer a good "deal" of some kind -- discounts, free shipping, free t-shirts -- and no advertiser may buy more than a single 250-word ad slot in any issue. No graphics, either. Every company gets an equal shot at your attention, and must win your business with the deal that it offers. Engst believes this will help sustain innovative products. And DealBITS won't be sent to you unless you ask for it. For one issue, write to or see or . Write to for a subscription, or to to cancel it. DealBITS will not be archived. For advertiser info, contact . [, 10/2/95.]

The going rate for advertising on the net is $20-$50 per 1,000 screens viewed. HotWired gets $150 per 1,000 viewings, for ads that draw 100K hits per month. Mark Torrence of MIT's AI Lab plans to earn $1M/year on advertising with his free stock-tracking service, . It's been getting up to 150K hits per day, and has outgrown the original hardware support. Advertising seems the best way to keep the service available for free. [Simson L. Garfinkel, SJM, 10/16/95, 4E.]

It's easy to start an online newsletter, but is there any profit in it? If you're in it for the money, no. Not enough profit to be worth the trouble. There's just too much free information on the net, competing for people's attention. If you're in it for love, there's also no easy payoff -- and your loyal following may not be as loyal as you think. But it is possible to build a business over several years, to a level of efficiency and good will that lets you experiment with possibilities. I've chosen to serve paying customers from the start, but with many free services for our research community. The result has been a niche business, growing very slowly. Most members start with our free services before they feel comfortable about joining.

Mac*Chat and TidBITS went the other way, entirely free until explosive growth forced a sponsorship or advertising model. Their approach does have the advantage of greater reader participation, solving the problem of where to get new material each week. It also takes less marketing effort, although listservs and other automated sign-up software account for part of that. But expenses may be higher for hardware (unless donated), phone lines, and staff, and there is always the risk of volunteer moderator burn-out. Email correspondence is also high. It remains to be seen which model is more profitable or stable.

Of course, one could just go after the business market. I got another offer today, from a new "International Business Internet Digest." 16 pages per month for only $299, or $399 outside the US. (Jordan Whitney, Inc.; 714-832-2432, 714-832-3053 Fax.) "We do NOT publish newsletters. We are high-level analysts and specialists who ... happen to use the 'digest format' in this case." I guess they need all that money to pay for "dozens of interns from colleges, surfing the net into the night; two dozen source subscriptions; advertising trade publications; an international clipping service; spies at every legitimate conference or seminar; faxes, email, and calls to a global network of Internet users"; and all their time editing too much information down into 16 entertaining pages. What they're really selling is John and Clare Kogler's reputation for TV advertising analysis, plus focus of attention on a particular set of customers -- the ones with money, fear or desperation, and very little time. If you're after profit, that's the way to go.

On the lighter side, it is possible to raise money directly on the net, just by asking. James "The Amazing" Randi has had a long-standing $10K prize for the certifiable demonstration of any psychic phenomenon; at Ron Leonard's suggestion, he decided to up the stakes. On 10/25/95, Randi asked for $1K or greater pledges toward a $200K prize. $18K (plus Randi's $10K) was raised in the first 24 hours, led by Penn and Teller. The next day, the "2000 Club" reached $113,500 and Penn Jillette offered to match the largest pledge. By 10/30/95 the total was $183,500 from 123 pledges (including Marvin Minsky). Presumably no one expects to lose their money, although most would be delighted to do so (as it would open new realms of science). TV producers in the US and UK have expressed interest in doing a special. [, 10/26/95.]