A funny thing happened to me on the way to Chicago.

I stopped at a MacDonald's restaurant on Interstate 88 between Davenport, Iowa and Chicago. But there was no drive-thru, so I parked and fought my way through a cold wind to the inside counter.

"How come," I asked, angrily, " you don't have a drive-thru?"

Answered a young lady behind the counter: "Because if we had a drive-thru we'd have too much business to handle. The line (of cars) would be backed up to Iowa."

Hell of a business philosophy: Don't make products or services available because you think there will be TOO MUCH DEMAND.

Reminds me of some newspaper folks I know who don't want to have on-line newspapers. Their objections:

1. "If we put a paper on the Internet, people might stop buying the (ink-on- paper) newspaper." (Translation: We're a printing plant, not an information company.)

2. "Some advertisers might want to spend money on the on-line paper and we don't know how to sell/price/produce that kind of advertising." (Translation: Let somebody more flexible have the business.)

3. "We'd have to change our deadlines." (Translation: We know everything that's going on in our town, and we'll deliver the information when it's convenient for us.)

4. "I'm plan to retire before that (publishing on-line) becomes necessary." (Translation: You'd better be 65 already.)

5. "Nobody in my town is on the Internet." (Translation: You're out of touch with reality.)

6. "All my readers are old; they don't use the Internet." (Translation: You've given up hope getting a new generation of readers.)

7. "The Internet is in color. We don't do color." (Translation: You've already lost your franchise.)

8. "We only got a meg of ram on each of our computers." (Translation: Maybe you'd like to return to hot metal.)

9. The Internet is too crowded. "Let's face it, everybody has a web site these days." (Translation: As Yogi Berra would put it: Nobody goes on the Internet, it's too crowded."

The list can go on and on with dumb reasons for not fulfilling a demand for information in your own backyards. They all amount to the same basic thought:

"If we made it easier/faster/better for our advertisers/readers we wouldn't know how to handle the demand."

You'd better get the know-how quickly - if you want to stay in the information business.

Let's review some basics.

An estimated 62 million adult Americans (145 million worldwide) are now using the Internet. Nearly every school in the United States is wired to the Internet. The U.S. Department of Commerce says Internet traffic is doubling every 100 days.

Nearly 400 million web pages exist, with some 1,000 web pages added daily.

Implications for newspapers: Forester Research estimates that U.S. online classified advertising will grow from $185 million in 1998 to $2.8 billion in 2003.

Forrester says classified categories of real estate, employment and autos will be eroded by more than 20 percent in the next five years.

Advertisers, adds Forrester, "are finding that broader reach, better ads and lower costs make the Internet more effective than print." (From Ideas magazine, December 1998).

Let's remember: Newspapers have a head start.

They have the traditional role of delivering news and advertising to their communities. Most newspapers sell more classified advertising than anyone else in their communities.

Most have cash flows that competitors and potential customers envy.

Newspapers can and should thrive in the Information Age - if they are willing to change to meet their customers' desires.

If newspapers will add "drive-thrus" (i.e. strong on-line newspapers, e-commerce technology and community self-publishing technology), they'll have customers lined up all the way to Iowa.

(Wilson is general manager of the International Newspaper Network, the "regional print shop in cyberspace." He's reachable at 800-579-6397 or at marcus@townnews.com)