Online Publishers Launch Trade Group

Twelve of the biggest names in the Web publishing industry have launched the Online Publishers Association (OPA), an advocacy group to deal with the advertising community, the media, the government and the public.

As earlier reported, the OPA was formed to act as a policy and advocacy group for content creators who do business on the Internet.

Founding members are the New York Times Digital (NYTD), the Wall Street Journal Online (WSJ), CBS MarketWatch, MSNBC.com, CNET Networks, Inc., Conde Net, ESPN.com, The Industry Standard, KnightRidder.com/Real Cities, Salon Media Group, Inc., USATODAY.com and the Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive.

Former ePod vice president Michael Zimbalist, who will serve as the association’s acting executive director until a permanent head is named, is currently the group’s only paid employee.

Zimbalist, who will work out of the NYTD’s Manhattan office, said the mission of the group is to provide online content brands with a unified voice on issues like advertising effectiveness, first amendment and intellectual property rights and copyright infringement issues.

Indeed, the group’s launch comes on the same day the U.S Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling that some of the biggest publishing houses must first obtain permission from freelance writers and photographers before republishing their work in electronic databases.

It is a ruling that could potentially hurt the pockets of publishing concerns like the New York Times, which said Monday it would remove copyrighted works from electronic databases like Lexis/Nexis in keeping with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

In an interview with atNewYork, Zimbalist said the OPA would also address the issue of premium vs. free content on the Internet.

“That’s a debate we will definitely participate in. We believe that quality content matters and, under the right circumstances, people will pay for it,” he said, noting that a few of the founding members — WSJ and Salon — are already charging for content.

Forced to deal with a sharp drop in online ad spending, Zimbalist said the OPA’s short-term priority would be to woo traditional brand name advertisers back to the Internet.

Dismissing speculation that the OPA was formed out of frustration with issues within the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), Zimbalist said the group would work closely with the Bureau to in the advertising sector.

“The IAB mission is wide. This organization is narrow and specific. There is room for both of us to do quality advocacy work.”

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