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A free world for email

Freemark Communications, a start-up company in the burgeoning market for free email, will provide free information services to its users, including horoscopes, sports scores, weather reports and Gene Siskel's movie reviews.

    Freemark Communications, a start-up company in the burgeoning market for free email, will provide free information services to its users in October, including horoscopes, sports scores, weather reports and Gene Siskel's movie reviews, the company disclosed today.

    And you don't even need an Internet service provider. PointCast already offers a similar service, but you need a ISP to get it.

    Next month, Freemark is expected to launch a broad marketing campaign to make email free everywhere. The service offers customers free email accounts while selling advertising that is delivered to those customers in their messages.

    The company is striking technology and distribution partnerships with companies such as Citibank, as well as major universities nationwide, in an effort to attract customers to its service.

    Freemark is the third free email service, along with Juno and Hotmail, that is trying to offer free products, generatating revenue only from advertising.

    Freemark already has 40,000 customers. It has a deal with universities that will allow free email to alumni so they can communicate with their colleges after they graduate, according to Marv Goldschmitt, executive vice president of Freemark marketing. The deal with Citibank, on the other hand, calls for email to be bundled with the banks' home-banking software that is expected to launch by year's end.

    Citibank also is the main sponsor of interactive entertainment kiosks that are set up at San Francisco 49ers football games. Freemark will be a highly visible part of that setup as well.

    Juno has big marketing plans, too. U.S. Robotics this week agreed to bundle Juno's service with their modems and BlockBuster Video is distributing Juno's discs at all of its stores nationwide. Juno also said it has pending deals with PC makers and is putting its name on buses, phone booths, and jetliners.

    Some analysts say the model of offering a free service while charging for advertising probably will work, but won't be able to support many companies.

    "Overall, we're certainly going to see a lot of people jump up in this segment, but in the end there will only be room for a small number of players," said Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group.

    Enderle says the real challenge will be the presentation of the ad itself. "These companies have to make the ads as memorable as they are on television," he said.

    So far three email services have received a positive response from advertisers. Freemark will feature ads from the Wall Street Journal, Life Savers, Wired magazine, and NetGuide. Juno, the largest service with 350,000 users, carries ads from Columbia House, Lands' End, Miramax Films, Marriott, Sony Theatres, and Welch's. Hotmail a service with 95,000 users, carries ads from companies including General Motors, Honda, and Netscape Communications.

    None of these companies have yet to see a profit, but as start-ups, they remain optimistic. "We're building an extremely large member base," said Charles Ardai, president of Juno. "We've spent millions of dollars on advertising in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, so we're focusing on building our subscriber base," he said.

    Juno's strategy to make itself a household name is the only way it will survive, according to Giga's Enderle. "With products like these, the survivors will be the ones that not only jump ahead in user numbers, but also have the most visibility."

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