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Online guides get new player

Zip2 plans to survive in the online guide arena by leveraging newspapers' brand names.

Zip2 won't become a household name. But that's OK. It doesn't want to be.

When the two-year-old company jumps into the highly competitive arts and entertainment guide arena later this month, it plans to stick with its business model, leveraging names of content providers already proven in the field: newspapers.

While other guides, such as Microsoft's Sidewalk service, launch their own guides branded under new names, Zip2 hopes to make its mint by custom-tailoring individual sites for newspapers.

"Media companies, particularly newspapers, have a very deep strength in bridging from old to new media," said Rich Sorkin, president and CEO of Zip2. "The missing piece is technology and economies of scale. We built our model to be the technological solution for newspaper companies."

Zip2 joins a host of others competing for billions of dollars in local ad revenues that now belong to the paper versions of yellow pages and newspapers. Competitors include Microsoft, America Online's (AOL) Digital City, US West Interactive's DiveIn, and CitySearch.

So far, Zip2 has partnered with 60 newspapers, including Newsday, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Greensboro Depot. Each newspaper can choose the services it wants on its site. They include: customized yellow pages, a home finder, an auto finder, community mapping, and an arts and entertainment guide.

Zip2 has launched 20 yellow page and two real estate sites. By the end of the summer it should have a dozen arts and entertainment guides, the first of which will be launched in the San Francisco Bay Area on April 30, Sorkin said.

Zip2 will make money through licensing feeds and a percentage of the advertising revenue.

Sorkin said he realizes that he's entering a tight market where companies are competing for no more than a promise. But like all CEOs, he has faith that his model will work.