April 28, 2008
Users Demand Expertise at How-To Web Sites
By BOB TEDESCHI
IF the Internet can make anyone a star, can it turn Barnes & Noble into one, too?
The bookseller has taken another step beyond its traditional business into the online publishing world, recently introducing Quamut.com, a site that teaches Web users things as diverse as the basics of football and how to build a Web site.
“Building a how-to Web site” is not on the list, but judging from the number of such sites in existence, it may be easier to do than follow a football game.
Quamut is the latest brand to capitalize on what company executives said is a growing disinclination among Web users for amateur how-to advice. Whether that distaste can support a departure from Barnes & Noble’s core business is a question investors will be considering.
“I think it’s an interesting experiment,” said Sameet Sinha, an Internet analyst with the JMP Group, an investment firm. “But Quamut will have to show up very well in searches, and doing that will not be easy.”
Quamut differentiates itself from the long list of how-to sites like eHow, HowStuffWorks.com and, to a lesser degree, About.com (which is owned by The New York Times Company), with a somewhat novel twist: selling downloadable documents of its otherwise free content.
For instance, users who want to know how to make sushi can browse through 15 pages of information, like “how to make sushi rice,” or can copy and print the information themselves. But Quamut sells a more polished version in a six-page color document for about $3. The document, in PDF, is without ads “and all the junk on the sides,” said Daniel Weiss, Quamut’s publisher and managing director.
“We think these will be a very big hit,” Mr. Weiss added. “We’ve seen some evidence of that already. People often need that physical reference.”
This is far from the first online publishing initiative for Barnes & Noble, Mr. Weiss said. Among other efforts, the company in 2001 bought SparkNotes, an online study guide series, and helped oversee the expansion . . .