Forbes.com Sees Promise of Paid Wireless Content

Paid content has become little more than an oxymoron as far as most Web publishers are concerned. In the US, a few adventurous types including Forbes.com are exploring the uncharted wireless waters where consumers are willing to dish out the dough for info on the go.

Forbes.com’s latest expedition will enable cell phone users to access its financial data, stock quotes and business news through interactive branding and wireless entertainment firm, YellowPepper’s Dartzz Short Message Service platform. The deal follows partnerships between the publisher and several wireless carriers including AT&T, Cingular and Sprint PCS by which subscribers can view Forbes.com content via SmartServ’s wireless application. Forbes.com content is also distributed through Compaq and Palm handheld units.

“We see these as the first steps towards true understanding of how to stay in touch with our audience throughout the day, both in terms of technology and information,” says Jim Spanfeller, president and CEO of Forbes.com.

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As yet, the text messaging space is relatively uncluttered, although the potential customer base is large. There are currently over 130 million wireless subscribers in the US according to the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association, and most cell phones are text message enabled. Users appreciate the immediacy of text messaging, especially when the value of the information is dependant upon its timeliness; sports scores and stock quotes come to mind.

Forbes.com visitors are willing to pay for its frequently updated business content. As found in the company’s November 2002 Wireless Phone Usage Study of Forbes.com users, “Nearly 20% of those who are interested in receiving business news through their cell phones indicated that they would be willing to pay more than $1 per month for such services.”

The YellowPepper offering, which is due to launch in March, will eventually allow subscribers to receive customized information and articles based on keywords they’ve entered or pre-set segments like Mergers and Acquisitions or Terrorist Alerts – “anything that’s really disruptive to the market or can influence your portfolio,” explains Marc Theerman, CEO of YellowPepper.

Also through the YellowPepper service, subscribers will be able to hear full Forbes.com articles as read by computer by dialing toll-free numbers imbedded into text messages sent to their phones. In the future, sponsorships and active response driven promotions could be made available to advertisers; however, Spanfeller doesn’t see an ad-based model as viable in the current climate.

Regardless of the possibilities and huge adoption numbers in Europe, Jupiter Research’s December 2002 Wireless Paid Content study finds that “Although nearly every major wireless carrier in the US had launched a mobile billing system suitable for supporting paid content as of late summer 2002….US wireless content is only slowly emerging.”

Spanfeller sees Forbes.com’s wireless venture as a learning game that shows potential down the road. “I wouldn’t go to the board and say it will have an impact on the bottom line this year,” asserts Spanfeller, “but maybe in a year or two it will.”

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