It's one of the most striking attempts yet to harness new media for a traditional publisher's gain, particularly among magazines where publishers have feared undermining their sales teams. Executives at the Time Inc. title, the first one to try an online auction, said the move was partly to recruit those advertisers that aren't in close touch with the sales force anyway.
"There are many advertisers out there that would like the opportunity to understand what the Sports Illustrated brand is about, what those offerings are, that we just physically can't get to," said Mark Ford, president of the Sports Illustrated Group.
The magazine also hopes the online marketplace can help gather advertisers quickly for time-sensitive products such as commemorative issues. "We used to send e-mails out to the sales reps in the Boston area saying, 'Look we're having a commemorative and you've got two days to sell into that,'" Mr. Ford said. "That's not an efficient use of their time. Now, through e-mail blasts, we can say, 'Here's a great offering.'"
And then of course there is unsold ad space to contend with. Sports Illustrated would rather move that inventory with its automated auctions, which use eBay technology, than by distracting a sales team trying to concentrate on bigger integrated packages.
Actually executing the deals struck online has also turned out to require human contact, said Mr. Ford. "A human has to talk to that client," Mr. Ford said, declining to describe specific buyers or deals so far. "They could win the bid and actually get it, but somebody has to talk to them."
The online marketplace got its first promotional push with a cover wrap around certain copies of the July 28 issue; there will be another wrap after Labor Day and perhaps trade advertising to follow.