Digital Ink Goes Commercial

The Washington Post subsidiary offers news as well as electronic community

Digital Ink, the Washington Post's electronic subsidiary, is going commercial July 17. The service, which has offered free access to anyone who signed up as a beta tester, will now charge for access.

Electronic copies of the Post are available, but Digital Ink is more than an electronic newspaper -- in many ways it provides links to the local community. For example, by the end of 1996, approximately 150 metro area schools will have their own home screen on the service, said Fred Singer, vice president of Digital Ink. Schools will be able to post their student newspaper, as well as calendars, sports schedules, and offer parents, teachers and students a way to exchange information.

Digital Ink is providing each participating school with one free link, Singer said. The service is currently limited to IBM-compatible format, because approximately 85 percent of the Washington market uses this platform, he said. Macintosh access will be available in the future.

While access may be limited, information isn't. Users can search for dates and times for future entertainment, look in a database of approximately 40 restaurants to find menu information, look up biographies of local elected officials or Metro schedules and find real estate information.

In addition to providing information, Digital Ink is selecting commercial services it would like to offer and negotiating with local businesses to provide a presence. For example, Riggs Bank will have information about its services available July 17 and in the future will allow subscribers to apply for products online. Capital Concierge of Washington, will set up shop as Digital Concierge and allow subscribers to order their services to purchase gifts, tickets, or flowers online, said Sally Hurley, company vice president. Other services such as a personalized gift reminder or "ask the expert" area will be available free starting July 17.

Hurley's company decided to go digital because it is looking for more avenues to offer its products and services.

Digital Ink is offering three levels of advertising. Riggs Bank, for example, is participating as a service provider. This category usually consists of businesses that are major advertisers seeking to conduct business differently, said Donald Brazeal, editor and vice president for Digital Ink. The fee for this can range from tens of thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands, depending on the complexity of the service.

The next level is the joint partnership program. Fees are lower and online sales revenue is split between Digital Ink and the advertiser, said Brazeal. This is the level that Capital Concierge is participating in and is ideal for entrepreneurs, he said.

The third level is straight advertising, such as the information that restaurants provide.

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