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Was Journalism Online Just Another of Steve Brill’s Failures?

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Has Steve Brill finally broken his losing streak? Journalism Online, his 2-year-old scheme to save journalism, didn’t get as big as he surely hoped it would. Only a couple dozen small papers are using its online pay platform Press+ (and none of those are News Corp. properties, despite the fact that the news giant had a stake in the venture). Yet Brill and cofounder Gordon Crovitz seem to have hit it big in selling the company to R.R. Donnelley, if PaidContent’s report that the sale price could be between $35 and $45 million is accurate. (Neither buyer nor seller has confirmed it.)
 
That’s an impressive number, considering the poor financial results of and low initial investment in the company, which started with backing from Leo Hindery Jr. M&A sources who spoke with Adweek were skeptical about the dollar figure reported by PaidContent, to say the least, and said that if that range is accurate, it’s likely dependent on the business meeting certain growth goals. If not, add Journalism Online to a list of past failed ventures by Brill.
 
The others:
 
In 1998, with much fanfare, Brill launched Brill’s Content, a glossy devoted to coverage of the media. It shut down in 2001 after three years with a circulation of 325,000, far from its goal of 600,000. At the same time, Inside.com, a site that reported on the media and that Brill’s company had acquired earlier that year, was scaled back to a portal.
 
The same year, he shuttered Contentville, a micropayment site for a range of content, after a year.
 
In 2003, in a departure from his various media projects, Brill started Verified Identity Pass/Clear Registered Traveler, a service designed to help flyers speed through airport security lines for $128 a year. The project raised $116 million and signed on 165,000 members. It was grounded in 2009.