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New service will customize Pathfinder

Pathfinder, CompuServe, and Open Market today announced a new service to deliver customized Pathfinder content packages.

Time Warner's PathFinder today announced its first subscription service, which the company says will deliver its huge library of People, Time, Sports Illustrated, and many other publications faster and without having to weed through unwanted material.

The company will deliver the new service through a technology contract with Open Market and an expanded marketing agreement with online service CompuServe.

Scheduled to debut by the end of the summer, PathFinder Personal Edition will allow subscribers to receive personalized news and information from the media giant's publications and create custom magazines using material on specific topics from multiple sources. For example, a user could ask for everything in PathFinder's archives about computers to be automatically compiled into one catalog instead of having to search through all the computer magazines individually.

Pricing has not yet been announced for the service, but company officials said it will be "extraordinarily low." David Ludlum, an analyst with Link Resources, said he expects the service to cost about $5 a month. Ludlum attended a PathFinder press conference held this morning in New York to announce the service.

CompuServe users, including members of its Wow and Sprynet services, will get the PathFinder Personal Edition for free. CompuServe said it doesn't plan to raise membership fees.

The number-two online service already offers its subscribers exclusive content from some of Pathfinder's offerings. "We will continue to have branded version of Time magazine and various news, but this is the most significant single content addition that we have ever had," said Jeff Shafer, CompuServe spokesman. "This service allows you to essentially build your own magazine by filling out a profile."

To speed the downloading of customized content, Pathfinder is combining its Personal Edition service with software from Open Market that manages fast Web access from the desktop. Called OM-Express, the software lets users program the time they want specific files downloaded and then automatically goes out and retrieves the materials for the hard drive, where they can be viewed offline at any time. The PC must be kept on during the process.

A Pathfinder beta version of OM-Express is available for download.

With the new service, PathFinder is confronting the widely debated question of whether Web content vendors should charge for their material. "It's a good short-term move and will probably bring in a good chunk of revenue, but in the longer run I think there will be a demand for niche information rather than for publishing brand names," Ludlum said. Pathfinder officials said today that the company will target niche markets but didn't specify what areas the company is considering.

The existing PathFinder site, launched 18 months ago and widely considered one of the most popular Web sites, will continue to be free to visit. But the new service may be an acknowledgment that advertising revenue alone is not enough to generate a profit. Pathfinder gained a spot on the top 10 advertising revenue list last year and generated $810,000 in revenue during the fourth quarter, according to WebTrack, but the company has yet to earn a profit.