John B. Evans, a man who influenced my entry into electronic publishing, died nine days ago at his home in New Jersey. His obituary appeared today in The New York Times.
A Welshman, Evans received a law degree from Cambridge University, then became a professional yachtsman for several years. Landing in New York City, he worked in advertising sales before joining the Village Voice in the early 1970s. He quickly rose to become that weekly newspaper’s publisher. In 1977, he joined Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation when it purchased control of Village Voice and later was named president of Murdoch’s U.S. stable of magazines (TV Guide, Elle, Seventeen, Mirabella, The Star, plus The Village Voice). In 1990, he moved to London and ran Murdoch’s British newspapers (The Times of London, The Sunday Times, and The Sun).
Evans returned to the U.S. in 1992 and formed News Electronic Publishing, a subsidiary to bring all of Murdoch’s publications online. Today’s New York Times quotes Murdoch’s former right-hand man, Martin Singerman, “As far as I know, he was the first person in print publishing that understood what was happening with the Internet and publishing.” There were a few others, but John was among the first. In October 1993, he was one of the reasons I joined News Corp. after leaving Reuters. Murdoch, on Evan’s suggestion, has purchased Delphi Internet Services Corporation of Cambridge, Massachusetts. At that time, Delphi was the world’s only consumer online service offering Internet access, back when America Online had a total of 129,000 subscribers. Murdoch was flush with recent success launching the Fox television network, and Evans told him that he could be equally successful online. I joined News Corp. at Delphi in Cambridge on the day that its sale to News Corp. closed.
Unfortunately, Evans wasn’t there. At the last minute, he had lost out an internal power struggle with Murdoch’s then brother-in-law, former radio disk jockey Jaan Torv. Rupert was always more loyal to blood than to competence. Evans knew a lot about online publishing; Torv knew very little, a failure which quickly showed. Despite an infusion of more than 400 new employees (including many top News Corp. editors and an intern named James Murdoch) and an alliance with MCI, Delphi within two years imploded at a net cost of more than $100 million to News Corp. I had left it within ten months. Had Evan led it, Delphi would have gotten somewhere big.
Frustrated, Evans gained the backing of Intel Corporation and bought News Electronic Publishing from News Corp. It became BizTravel.com, an early entry in the online travel industry. Evans retired soon afterwards.