E-centric titles trimming fat on weak-economy diet

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The softening economy continues to take its toll on a once-booming magazine category, prompting a significantly curtailed publishing schedule at one Net-centric title and layoffs at another.

Hotdots, the Web-shopping title for women launched late last year by AOL Time Warner's Southern Progress Corp., has scotched plans for every-other-monthly publication in 2001. The magazine now plans to release a May-June issue-which a spokeswoman referred to as "another test issue"-and then evaluate its options. Some internal speculation contends the May-June issue will be its last.

On Feb. 21, Standard Media International-the parent of Industry Standard, Advertising Age's Launch of the Year in 1999-laid off 69 staffers out of about 415, including 18 editorial employees. That followed Standard Media's elimination of 36 positions in January. Nearly one out of every four jobs at Standard Media at the end of 2000 is now gone.

Hotdots, which Southern Progress spent around $5 million to launch, has thus far only published a November-December 2000 issue. "With the downturn," said a spokeswoman, "we will see where the magazine goes and how much we want to invest in it."


Hotdots Publisher Jeff Ward insisted, "It's not shutting down," before referring further questions to a spokeswoman.

An AOL Time Warner executive who had no direct knowledge of changes at Hotdots said the outcome was not surprising, hinting that internal earnings pressures are mounting within the newly merged media giant. "Unless something has huge potential, they can't afford to be investing," said the executive.

Other new economy publishers have scaled back significantly. On Feb. 16, Imagine Media said it would shutter six U.S. magazines, lay off 350 people and investigate sale options for Business 2.0. Late last year, Red Herring laid off 57 staffers.

Meanwhile, the two leading newsweeklies continue to expand into the tech arena. AOL Time Warner hit newsstands Feb. 5 with On, a rebranded relaunch of the monthly Time Digital with a rate base of 1 million. Newsweek will publish two issues of new tech-lifestyle title e-Life in September and November, also with a 1 million rate base, with unspecified (yet "committed") plans to publish more, said a spokeswoman. Hotdots' Web shopping niche has been a troubled one. Last year, Ziff Davis Media published two issues of eshopper before deciding to make it a special issue of Yahoo! Internet Life. For the holiday season of 1999, Meredith Corp. polybagged 3 million copies of Shop Online 123 to select subscribers of 10 of its titles. In late 2000, Meredith cut distribution and currently has no plans to publish another issue.

Hotdots launched with a rate base of 400,000. The company had planned to take the title monthly in 2002.

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