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HEARD ON THE BEAT / IN ORANGE COUNTY

Fee News Service Tries to Scoop Free News Rivals

September 22, 1997|P.J. HUFFSTUTTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the competitive world of online business--where Wall Street confidence can be as fleeting as the latest, greatest gizmo--a good idea doesn't always lead to great success.

Take Scoop Inc., a Santa Ana-based Internet news service. When the company went public last spring, the stock sold for $4.50 a share--below the $5 to $6 range Scoop staff had anticipated.

The lower price meant the offering generated nearly $2 million less in funds sorely needed to help bolster the company, which has lost money the last three years.

Company officials tried to shrug off their disappointment. Just wait until we customize our software, they said. That's when we'll start to boom.

Now, with last week's launch of Scoop Direct, the Orange County company finds out whether the public is hungry for personalized news.

As an e-mail news and business information service, Scoop Direct allows users to pick as many as 25 areas of interest. The software then browses through 3,700 different publications each morning, selects stories that fit into these categories and e-mails the user a collection of headlines and summaries.

Yahoo and Excite--Web search engines that offer similar clipping services--don't have such a broad library selection, said Rand Bleimeister, chief executive of Scoop. "We're targeting a different kind of user, someone who wants to learn a bit more about a particular product or subject."

And who also is willing to pay.

While Yahoo and Excite offer their service free, Scoop charges users 25 cents to $3.95 to read a full article.

"If the information is offered for free, it's gutsy for someone to ask for money," said Tom Taulli, research director for Calabasas-based IPO Monitor, an Internet service that tracks the new issues market. "These types of services are glutted on the Web. Theirs is a business model that I think will fail."

Scoop has patterned itself after other successful electronic news services, Bleimeister counters. "I guess we might [fail]," he said. "But I don't see how that's going to be possible."

P.J. Huffstutter covers high technology for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7830 and at p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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