This attempt to generate new revenue streams, while enthusiastically endorsed by the publishers themselves, is meeting with mixed reviews from media buyers concerned with everything from how to price World Wide Web ads to guarantees that consumers are paying attention to them.
"Some of the advertising [delivery] technologies are running ahead of the Web auditing companies and organizations," notes Taki Okamoto, assistant media director-interactive for Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "From a media numbers standpoint, it's not auditable by a third party yet."
"Once people come to a site, we don't really know for sure" if they are even reading the ads, he says. "People could be multi-tasking on their computer and they may not even be looking at [an ad]."
On the other hand, standardized measurement will provide a heretofore unheard of level of precision in determining how many people saw an ad; when they saw it; and whether or not it encouraged them to seek more information.
A Web magazine will not only be able to know where its readers come from and how many there are-details current subscriber lists can already provide-but exactly how long the average reader spends, a figure that in print is based solely on projections.
Finally, Mr. Okamoto says, "you will know which half of your advertising is wasted."
The problem is one of reach. The universe of online-service users is still far smaller than the universe of print magazine readers. Even in their own medium, online magazines are far from dominant: None of them can even approach the number of hits garnered by the big search engines-or even many of the adult-oriented sites, for that matter.
The bright spot here is that as online viewers increase, many will seek the same editorial properties they have followed in other media.
Paul DeBenedictis, president of new media for Hachette Filipacchi Magazines, says that more than 250,000 "unique individuals" enter the company's Car & Driver site each month. The company has introduced Web versions for 21 of of its 28 magazine properties, including Boating, CycleWorld, Elle, George and Premiere.
Hachette sells its online ad space on a straight cost-per-thousand basis, and "The way I've set them up, I overdeliver. And I don't charge the advertiser one cent more," he says.
Still, the question facing publishers is whether these line extensions will end up taking readers and/or ad dollars from their print relatives.
For the moment, Mr. DeBenedictis believes that since the Web "is really more of a programmimg medium than a print medium," any changes in existing readership or ad spending patterns are likely to be "more incremental than detrimental."
Bruce Judson, general manager, Time Inc. new media, isn't worried, either.
"If anything, it is introducing new generations of people to brands they might not otherwise have been exposed to," he says.
Besides, he adds, when the company established its Pathfinder site, which links into all of its established magazine properties, "We expected it to have independent value."
While established players like Time Inc. and Hachette have to move their brands online by a formula designed not to damage current franchises, Steve Goldberg operates under no such restrictions.
The manager of advertising development & strategy for Microsoft, whose responsibilities includeis certainly among the most publicized of recent Web magazine launches.
For the moment at least, it is not disclosing a rate base, but Mr. Goldberg contends that "doesn't really matter since we are not selling circulation, we are actually selling impressions. . .I don't think the real nature of [that] value has been completely understood by users or by advertisers."
While Mr. Goldberg says he doesn't "see any confusion or ambiguity that's meaningful as far as the pricing metrics go," what's true for Microsoft's properties may not be for other media properties.
There is no reason to believe that the systems of buying and selling Web advertising will be any less subject to rapid and revolutionary change than the technology used to deliver it.
The aura of freshness and excitement that surrounds many online publishing projects is exactly what appeals to marketers, but the medium's volatility can make them shy away from long-term commitments.
"Things happen very quickly in this business," Mr. Okamoto says. "It only started feeling like a real medium about February of this year... Only in a very few instances would I be looking at a long-term buy."