Walking a Path to the Internet
John Kerr knows what publishers want and what advertisers need. As the president of Kerrwil Publications Ltd., Toronto, Kerr also understands the importance of capitalizing on the Internet to strengthen his print products' market share.
Kerwill publishes 10—monthly and bi-monthly—Canadian trade and consumer titles. And the publisher treasures a long-standing relationship with its printer, Web Offset Publications, Toronto. But this traditional relationship be-tween printer and print buyer transformed when Kerr began talking to Web Offset's technical guru, John Bacopulos.
"John and I talked at length about ways to create a Web environment that was good for both the publisher and the reader," Kerr recalls. "He knew there had to be a simpler way to navigate around a publisher's Web site. And he knew there was an opportunity there to use the Internet to marry print to the Web.
"So, I took some time and spoke with a lot of publishers and members of the American Bus-iness Press and the folks at the BPA. I listened to their ideas about how the Internet could enable more interaction between reader, publisher and advertiser," Kerr adds. "Then, John and his LinkPath team spent about three months visiting the Web sites of the major U.S. and Canadian publications to identify what was good and what was bad."
With Kerr's publishing acumen and Bacopulos' technological savvy, the pair went to work on designing the architecture for an Internet service we now know as LinkPath (www.linkpath.com).
The initial design called for a way to drive a consumer from an advertiser's print ad to the exact product-specific location on the Web site. Similarly, this type of solution would support a publisher's own efforts to drive editorial traffic to a Web site.
The question remained, however, what is the best technology to support these goals? Bacopulos first looked at scanning technologies, but suspected it may be implausible—and costly—to require consumers to purchase additional peripherals, or for publishers to supply them. "John looked at the scanning technologies early on, but decided against it because of the costs and limited install base," Kerr explains. "Unlike Digimarc's watermarking technology or some of the barcode readers, LinkPath wouldn't require the reader or the publisher to buy additional hardware or software. A Web browser is all that's needed."
How it works
Bacopulos realized that before launching LinkPath (it went live in Feb. 2000), he needed to build a technological infrastructure that would be robust, scalable—giving the service room to grow—and reliable. They selected four technologies to create the framework: a Sybase Adaptive Server Enterprise database, a PHP3 Middleware engine, an Apache server and Red Hat's Linux operating system. The site also supports voice-activation functionality, so that a user could conceivably do away with keying altogether.
From the consumer's perspective, LinkPath acts like a portal. A man sees an ad for a new electronic gadget he craves, so he simply launches his browser, calls up his bookmarked LinkPath URL, enters a simple code that appears on an ad (which could also appear on billboards, point-of-purchase displays, promo pieces, reprints, packaging, etc.), and LinkPath leads the gadget-loving guy directly to the manufacturer's Web page.
But how does keying in a code differ from keying in a URL? Canadian Yachting magazine, for example, is designated with a two letter code: CY. Its LinkPath ads and editorial are then assigned a number. The cover-two ad might be deemed CY1. Rather than remembering a plethora of URLs, the consumer only needs to remember one—www.linkpath .com—along with a simple code. And there's no additional searching through the advertiser's Web site. The link is precise.
Also through LinkPath, a woman who wants to request product specs on the new CPU she's been eyeing, can request a mailing, and her data is uploaded directly to the advertiser's own information request table.
As a value-added service, LinkPath allows its members to generate pertinent usage reports. And publishers can automate subscription requests and reader-service-card generation. "We really embraced LinkPath—and not just because I helped in its creation. Since we've implemented it, we've been able to cut out all of our reader service cards, and we saved a lot of money by doing away with those printing costs," Kerr asserts.
Less than a year after its launch, LinkPath reported to have more than 200 participants. "Some-times, simple is best," Kerr remarks. "We're calling it, 'Speed Dial to the Internet.' "
-Gretchen A. Kirby