Brill Sells Fledgling Company Journalism Online

Steve Brill’s Journalism Online, the startup he launched two years ago with the idea that it would be the savior of reporting, has had limited impact so far. But Brill’s sale of the company to R.R. Donnelley & Sons, in a deal announced Thursday, could help it gain the scale it’s lacked so far.
 
Journalism Online launched in April 2009 with the ambitious goal of saving quality journalism with its Press+ platform, which lets publishers charge for access to their digital content using a metered approach. The company contends that, contrary to expectations, participating papers didn’t see significant drops in ad revenue or traffic after using the platform for several months.
 
Still, the company never gained much traction, and its growth potential has appeared limited. No major metropolitan papers have signed on, raising the question of whether the concept can work on a broad scale, and there’s skepticism about how much money existing customers have made from online subscriptions. (Journalism Online’s 24 customers are small to midsized papers like The Scranton Times-Tribune and Augusta Chronicle.)
 
For R.R. Donnelley & Sons, the purchase is a way to help its newspaper and magazine customers stay in business, and it helps the company with its continuing effort to reduce its reliance on its core printing business. The sale might make good sense. As Edward Atorino, media analyst with Benchmark Co., pointed out, Journalism Online will now “have access to a huge customer base.”
 
Brill and his co-founder, former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, are reportedly staying with the company.