THE ON-LINE ONSLAUGHT
Byline: Valerie Seckler
NEW YORK — With its capacity to reach mass audiences at high speed with information aimed at their specific interests, the Internet is spurring magazines to boldly expand their nascent electronic publishing ventures.
While few are turning a profit, some electronic magazines — as well as Web sites that draw content from more than one title — are rapidly approaching solvency.
“We have a sense that we will start to make money on Epicurious Travel and Epicurious Food this year,” projected Sarah Chubb, director of CondeNet, the 3 1/2-year-old unit of Advance Publications.
“There will possibly be Epicurious Home and Garden Web sites to come,” Chubb told WWD. The 37-year-old executive also said CondeNet is “working on developing two or three additional sites,” but she declined to elaborate.
Among other recent developments in electronic publishing:
Hachette Filipacchi New Media is redesigning its 3 1/2-year-old Elle Web magazine, ellemag.com, for a reintroduction this summer, with new interactive features and more coverage of the runway collections.
A Breast Health Center mini-site will bow in July at homearts.com, a three-year-old Web site produced by Hearst New Media & Technology, which can be browsed by category, such as Body & Soul, or title, such as Redbook.
On Monday, News America Digital Corp. launched video clips of “The Magic Hour” at tvgen.com, giving on-line users TV Guide previews of the daily, syndicated late-night program that bowed the same day. NADC has similar deals with shows on sister channel Fox, and on ABC.
Fortune Investor, a mini-site at fortune.com, made its debut June 1, aiming at the more sophisticated investor at home and in the office, with data and investment tools not available at Fortune’s primary site.
CondeNet launched The Conde Nast Traveler Passport On-Line in May, linked to Epicurious Travel (epicurious.com) with travel news updated daily, versus the monthly frequency of the Conde Nast Traveler print title.
Also on the horizon are Hachette Web sites for Home magazine, and an aggregate one for Audio, Video, Stereo Review and Car Stereo, revealed Jim Docherty, president of Hachette Filipacchi New Media.
Hachette’s electronic business has been profitable ever since the launch of its first e-magazine, Car & Driver, Docherty said.
“It has never been unprofitable,” he maintained. “It represents an additional revenue stream, which is an element that a lot of publishers probably didn’t factor into their plans until the last year or so.”
At Time Inc. New Media, some sites and mini-sites are “already profitable on their own,” according to one source. Time has eight Web sites: People, Teen People, Time, Entertainment Weekly On Line, Parenttime, Money and Ask Dr. Weil — featuring advice on health from the best-selling writer on the mind-body connection — as well as Fortune.
With traffic building for Web publishers and more users coming from the mainstream, hotly contested ad dollars are beginning to flow more freely into the emerging medium, publishers reported.
About 20 percent of Conde Nast Traveler’s subscribers are also scouring the Net for travel tips, according to Thomas Florio, vice president and publisher of the travel title, and the brother of Steven T. Florio, president and ceo of Conde Nast. Roughly 14 percent of the users of Time’s Dr. Weil site, for instance, are over 55, observed Graham Cannon, director of strategy, Time Inc. New Media. And Hachette, Docherty said, has turned up “almost identical demographics” among its on-line users and readers of its magazines.
“Ad space for Car & Driver is sold out through June, and Elle is almost there,” Docherty noted. “We’ve increased our electronic pages beyond the content available in the magazines because advertisers were asking for a higher number of page views per site.”
The Elle site now gets about four million page views a month, Docherty said. “If the page views increase 50 percent after the redesign, we’d be very happy,” he allowed.
Efforts to clearly differentiate electronic and print media, such as the drive under way at Elle, have proven to be the most effective for publishers, who have found that a literal re-creation of print titles on line — a process they call repurposing — is not what Net surfers are after.
“We don’t think in terms of putting specific magazines like Vanity Fair or Vogue on line; we think about what [information] assets we have that will work, and how we can repackage them for the Web,” Chubb emphasized.
“Why would someone want to read a magazine on a computer instead of in print?” asked Time Inc.’s Cannon. “You’re not going to drag a computer into the john or the train.”
Instead, publishers are creating new revenue streams by leveraging Net traits that distinguish electronic content from print. They include interactive quizzes and chat rooms; on-line calculators that help users figure out, say, how much to save for a college education or retirement, and the ability to search mammoth databases with speed and precision.
Epicurious, at epicurious. com, for example, draws from the latest Bon Appetit, Gourmet and Conde Nast Traveler, but ranges far beyond their pages. Launched in September 1995, Epicurious offers almost 9,000 recipes in its on-line archive, dating back to the Fifties, noted Tricia Viscardi, marketing director of CondeNet.
Epicurious Food enables users to search and find any one of those recipes by ingredient, type of food to be made, or even by the items in their refrigerator — within seconds.
“The Web is encouraging partnerships between magazines, retailers and vendors because electronic publishing offers so much more depth and reach than print media,” noted Lauren B. Freedman, president of The E-tailing Group, a Chicago-based consulting firm.
Moreover, by linking their ads to electronic magazines via mini-sites on which the user can click, Freedman said, “advertisers create authority for their product on the Net that would be difficult to achieve themselves, since they do not have their own editorial departments.”
Then there is the potential of brand extension — for a magazine and its advertisers. To wit: The Conde Nast Traveler Passport On-Line drew roughly 200,000 visits in its first month on the Web, a figure that usually takes far longer to reach in print.
“Our advertisers can give up-to-the-minute information to travelers, via Passport, who are very disposed to getting that information,” noted Gerry Rizzo, executive creative director, Conde Nast Traveler. “They have to click on ads to view them.”
“Everybody’s fighting for the same pot of advertising dollars, which isn’t very large right now,” acknowledged Viscardi, whose sister is Catherine Viscardi Johnston, executive vice president of Conde Nast. “The Web represents another revenue stream while giving us a way to reinforce our print brands and expose them to a broader audience.”
What’s more, e-magazines are starting to rake in revenue beyond ads.
For one thing, it can be far cheaper to fulfill subscriptions for Web sites than for magazines. Subscriptions to e-magazines can be executed for as little as 50 cents to $1 per user, versus $12 to $15 for a typical print subscription, publishers pointed out.
At Time Inc. New Media, Cannon said, “We’ve acquired about $1 million in on-line subscriptions over the past nine months. We’ve been successful selling subscriptions on line.”
E-publishers also are teaming up with advertisers to provide links to other sites, and these publishers realize royalties on goods and services bought by users through such links. CondeNet and Microsoft are testing a travel site called Expedia, linked to Epicurious Travel, Chubb said, that will bring CondeNet “a bounty on people who access their site via ours and buy things.”
Despite all the growth on line, electronic fashion magazines have been constrained because of their imprecise resolution of photographs, and the length of time it takes users to download the images.
“When the technology gets to the point where people can see products portrayed on a par with catalogs, we’ll be seeing more apparel sold on line, and more electronic fashion magazines,” Florio projected.
Observed Viscardi: “Web fashion is all about reproducing high-resolution images of glossy photographs, such as are delivered in print and on TV. I’m not sure this is the time to do electronic fashion.
“The technology is not up to speed,” Viscardi added. “The Web is really good at searching for data and providing services. We are trying to leverage that utility.”
Steven Wagner, vice president of programming, Home Arts Network, concurred.
Where Hearst has found success with fashion on line, Wagner explained, is with interactive features such as “the seven-day pantsuit.” Viewers use a cursor to select apparel, place it on a mannequin, and get feedback on their choices from Marie Claire editors — either in recorded audio or in words displayed on their computer monitor.
Similarly, a “red alert” option asks users for data about their personal features and suggests a beauty makeover based on information from magazines such as Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar, and from content created specifically for the Home Arts site.
“Fashion is difficult on line,” Wagner said. “It is very visual, and images take a long time to download. People get impatient.”
One exception has been Elle’s Model Gallery, which features photos of models along with brief write-ups on them and the fashion and is one of the most popular elements of Elle’s site. “We hear we can’t do fashion photography justice online, but it hasn’t seemed to hinder the users,” said Docherty. “If they didn’t want it, they wouldn’t download it.”
“I don’t think every publisher can or should be on the Net,” said Florio. “It makes sense for some — travel, books, news, recorded music. In five to 10 years, I expect we’ll see more fashion.”
For magazine publishers in the late Nineties, concluded Cannon, “It’s not about having to be on line; it’s whether you can do business on line. This isn’t an R&D project or an image thing. We are trying to make money.”