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IDG dives into fray

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International Data Group this month launches a multimillion-dollar bet that it can profit where so many others have failed and succeed with an Internet magazine aimed primarily at business managers, not technologists.

The Industry Standard, a weekly newsmagazine covering what Framingham, Mass.-based IDG defines as "the Internet economy," makes its debut this month into a category that is already crowded and confusing to many readers and advertisers.

Currently clamoring for attention are publications such as Ziff-Davis' Inter@ctive Week, CMP Media's InternetWeek (formerly CommunicationsWeek), and Mecklermedia's Internet World (formerly Web Week), as well as a host of regular sections and supplements in existing high-tech and media publications (including both Business Marketing and Advertising Age).

Already gone from the scene, victims of either high costs, low revenues or just mispositioning, are CMP's Interactive Age and NetGuide; CIO Communications' Webmaster (now a monthly supplement titled CIO's Web Business); and Mecklermedia's original Internet World magazine.

But how many different ways can the Internet be sliced and diced into must-read industry trade magazines?

That's a question that information technology executives, publishers and ad agencies hope may be answered in part by syndicated circulation research due in June.

Research will tell tale

At that time, Simmons Market Research Bureau is expected to release readership and circulation data that details who is reading what book.

"That's the study that many agency people, including me, are waiting to see," says Mark Stephens, VP-group media director, DSW Partners, San Francisco. "That is going to be the first study that shows us, for example, whether CMP has been able to build upon the readership and circulation that they had with CommunicationsWeek, which is now InternetWeek."

Industry executives point out that the time allotted for publications to find their audience and advertisers has compressed in the Internet era. Where publications once had several years to get their editorial and advertising in sync, Internet books do not have that luxury.

"Everyone is trying to figure out what [executives] involved in this new medium want to read says DSW's Mr. Stephens. "From that perspective, it's not unusual to see publications coming and going and changing."

The Industry Standard itself has already undergone a few name changes before it even hit newsstands. It was originally named The Internet Industry Standard; in April it became The Industry Standard; and is now known, at IDG at least, as simply The Standard.

"The Internet books that have failed to date have failed because they haven't delivered a new audience," said Kelly Conlin, IDG president. "As the Internet became a pervasive technology, the existing technology books did a good job of accommodating and assimilating the Internet into their own coverage.

"But none of them delivered a new audience, one that demonstrates how every industry is affected by the Internet, that it's a convergence between the technology industry, the media industry and the economy."

Circulation strategies

For IDG, the challenge will be convincing the big-money advertisers -- the ones who market hard-core computer and networking equipment to readers of IDG's mainstream technology books -- that it makes sense to reach a general business audience as well.

The most successful Internet books so far have had a strong IT readership, particularly among networking professionals.

Thus, CMP's InternetWeek, with its CommunicationsWeek legacy, has a circulation comprised of almost 75% information services and network management readers, and considers its competition to be not other Internet books, but IDG's Network World.

"We felt by making a name and editorial change we could better focus on the segment of the market we wanted," said Deborah Gisonni, InternetWeek publisher. "InternetWeek is a high-end enterprise networking publication aimed at network/information technology professionals and corporate management."

Similarly, Ziff-Davis' Inter@ctive Week, the longest-lived of the original Internet books, boasts a readership that's nearly 60% IT management and only 30% business management. Like InternetWeek, it has built-in advertising from hard-core networking and telecom vendors that pure Web books -- the few that have survived -- don't easily get.

But IDG is explicit about the audience target for its new The Industry Standard. "We know who we're reaching for," said John Battelle, president-CEO, IDG's Internet Industry Publishing Division. "[It's] senior-level executives responsible for leveraging their bottom line through the Internet -- but it's not about the latest Internet technology tools or software to build Web pages.

"It's about the business strategies, what are the revenue models, what are the business models, what's working and what's not in the emerging Internet economy."

In terms of numbers, the initial target is a circulation of 60,000 readers. The company is aiming for 75,000 within a year of its launch.

Mr. Battelle says The Industry Standard has already attracted a blue-chip roster of advertisers, including Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM Corp., Modem Media, Novell, Sprint Corp. and Yahoo!

With an initial rate base of 60,000 paid subscribers, The Industry Standard offers a one-time color page ad rate of $9,450, although higher-frequency ad rates drop as low as $6,000 per ad.

On the circulation side, say IDG executives, more than 1,000 individuals requested subscriptions to The Industry Standard via its Web site. Newsstand price is set at $2.50.

"We are pleasantly surprised to the degree to which the business plan is being fulfilled," says Mr. Conlin. "The Standard is over its target for the first issue."

Proving itself

Alan Meckler, chairman-CEO, Mecklermedia and one of the veterans of the Internet publishing wars, says The Industry Standard will have to prove itself like other industry books.

"At first, when we made the change from Web Week to Internet World, a lot of advertisers said, `Prove it to us, that you can deliver the audience you say you have,' " says Mr. Meckler.

"We believe that Internet World will be at breakeven by next April, that our page growth is up about 15% a month and, frankly, that's what we told Wall Street, that we'd be thrilled to continue growing at 7% to 15% a month."

But Internet World, positioned as the newspaper for e-business and Internet technology, has considerable value for Mr. Meckler whether it makes much profit or not: It is a "tremendous advertising resource" for Mecklermedia's highly successful Internet trade shows.

"We have a purpose other than simply providing the best Internet coverage and that is to help promote the trade shows," says Mr. Meckler. "We will be around at this time next year because we have that other reason for publishing. But my prediction is that next year at this time there may be only two or three other magazines that are still publishing."

Tough to stand out

There's no question it's a tough struggle to stand out in a market this confusing and fast-paced right now. "Frankly, none of the Internet publications have done a particularly good job of defining themselves as to their editorial coverage or defining who the potential subscribers are," says Anders Eckert, president, Berensen, Isham & Partners, a Boston-based interactive direct marketing agency.

"On that basis, it's hard to recommend even to our clients which publications they should buy."

Although publishing executives admit that many of their offerings do appear to be similar on the surface, they also emphasize the unique insights that their magazines offer.

"Inevitably, people will group publications, but in our mind, there's no other weekly, no other paid newsmagazine in this category that is tackling the market this aggressively," says Mr. Conlin.

Now, he says, it's up to readers and advertisers to decide what's considered truly must-read Internet news.

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