NEW BOOKS CREATE STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

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Before launching Smart Money in partnership with Dow Jones & Co., Hearst Magazines, like most major publishing houses, usually preferred to go it alone.

But on the heels of SmartMoney's success, Hearst is hooking up with French publisher Marie Claire Album to develop a U.S. edition of Marie Claire and with Ralph Lauren on an upscale lifestyle magazine.

The alliances are part of a bigger trend in the magazine industry, as a growing number of publishers link up to do together what neither could do alone.

With the industry slowly emerging from the recession and the outlook for advertising growth still flat, partnerships are a way for publishers to move forward with new ventures while minimizing risks.

"I think there's a trend of combining resources, and where you can blend expertise and take advantage of powerful brand names, it will continue," says D. Claeys Bahrenburg, president of Hearst Magazines.

Hearst is far from alone. Among other joint publishing ventures:

Vibe, an urban culture/hip-hop music magazine from Time Inc. Ventures and Quincy Jones Entertainment.

Tell, a teen magazine published by Hachette Filipacchi Magazines and NBC-TV.

Family PC, a planned family computing magazine that brings together Walt Disney Co.'s FamilyFun and computer publisher Ziff-Davis Publishing Co.

Heart & Soul, a health magazine for African-Americans that's a partnership between Rodale Press and Ware Communications.

In addition, the recession has spawned several unusual business alliances in the publishing industry.

Time Inc. last year reached an agreement to manage American Express Co.'s magazine division although it does not have an ownership position. And The New York Times Co. last year cut a deal to manage the circulation of Pace Communications' Elegant Bride.

A Times Co. executive admitted last year the company wanted to get involved in the bridal field but didn't feel there was room for yet another new title. The partnership, according to the executive, was "a means to an end."

Strategic alliances give smaller publishers access to much-needed resources and clout while bringing entrepreneurial ideas to large publishing companies.

More traditional joint ventures lower the costs and risks of launch ing new products while filling in weaknesses. Dow Jones, for example, struggled for years to develop a magazine based on The Wall Street Journal before turning to Hearst for help.

The Disney-Ziff marriage also is ideal because of their respective expertise with families and computers.

"You have less room today for failure so you have to capitalize on and maximize the potential for success," says James Guthrie, exec VP-marketing development, Magazine Publishers of America.

Of course, there are risks. Tensions or clashes between corporate cultures are always possible. And if each side relies on the other to keep a close eye on the project, it could wind up an orphan.

Many magazines that make their debuts as joint ventures-including such titles as Parenting, Health and Premiere-usually wind up wholly owned by one of the partners within several years.

"Joint ventures are really tricky to make work on a whole bunch of levels," says Robin Wolaner, who started Parenting in 1987 as a joint venture with Time Inc. and sold her stake to the company in 1990. "I think it can work as long as there's mutual honesty and a common goal. If there's any lack of trust, I don't see how you can make it."

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