At Ifra‘s Beyond the Printed Word conference this afternoon, Rowan Barnett described how his monthly newspaper has a circulation of 100,000 without publishing a website or in print.
He is editor-in-chief of The Avastar, a virtual newspaper that circulates in the virtual world Second Life. Its owned and operated by Bild.T-Online AG, a joint venture between Deutsche Telecom and the publishing company Bild (Bild, Stern, Spiegel Online).
Second Life has 10.5 million registered users, although only some 560,000 are active. It is an avatar world, in which users create a graphical version of themselves and navigate through a three-dimensional graphic world, much like in a video game.
Barnett said that 95-percent of the site’s content is generated by its users. He emphasized that major advertisers such as Toyota, Mercedes, Reebok, Lacoste, and Armani has setup virtual stores in Second Life and that news organizations such as CNN, Reuters, and SkyNews has setup virtual news bureaus in it. Celebrities such as Bruce Willis, JZ, and 50 Cent have created their own avatar inhabitants there and given interviews.
The Avastar began publishing in English during December 2006, now also publishes a German-language edition, and generates up to 136,000 downloads per month. It currently downloads a PDF edition but plans to switch to a HTML site in the near future. Downloads are available a virtual kiosks and vendors in Second Life.
This virtual newspaper has a full-time staff of seven, supplemented by user-generated content from users, whose work is edited by the staff.
Barnett explained Second Life’s low usage rate as due mainly to technical problems involving its graphics. He said that 23 percent of users’ sessions end in browser crashes and another 8 percent end in server crashes.
(Though Barnett termed Second Life part of Web 3.0, I think that definition could create quite a dispute among those who favor Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s ‘semantic web’ definition.)