THE BEST MAGAZINES: RIDING THE BUZZ, 'SALON' LOOKS TO WHERE INTERNET IS HEADING: AD $ SOAR FOR BEST ONLINE MAGAZINE OF '96

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While most online magazines are eking out an existence, Salon is basking in publicity and popularity.

Salon has grown from an every-other-month literary 'zine into a highbrow, high-volume entertainment daily, with traffic at 2 million page views a month-more than eight times as many as when launched in November 1995.

More astonishingly, Salon executives project ad revenues to jump tenfold, to $3 million in 1997 from last year.

Because of its growth and popularity, Salon is Advertising Age's Online Magazine of the Year.

"We've tried to point Salon to where the Internet is headed, and not where it's been," explains Salon Editor-CEO David Talbot, pointing out how Salon (www.salonmagazine.com) attracts more women and a slightly older readership than other Web publications.

According to a recent survey, 43% of Salon readers are female, versus the Web average of 32%. In addition, its average reader age is 38, compared to 32 for the rest of the Web.

Early 'zines, like HotWired, were successes because they aimed at first adapters to the Net, Mr. Talbot explains. But with Salon's cultural and entertainment content, it's poised "to be capturing the new readers who are pouring onto the Internet this year."

TOP AUTHORS

Accolades for its design and literary quality, with authors like Amy Tan and Camille Paglia, have fueled the word-of-mouth buzz, according to Publisher-President Michael O'Donnell. He and Mr. Talbot also credit the repeat traffic to Salon's "Table Talk" section, recently rated the third-most popular online forum on the World Wide Web by Forum One Communications, which catalogs Internet forums.

Since the average stay on Salon is 17 minutes, Mr. Talbot says, peo-ple are "not just reading, they're talking and participating. That's part of our original concept. We wanted to make this a lively reader party; that's why we called it Salon."

Mr. Talbot, a former features editor at the San Francisco Examiner, left along with some co-workers to co-found Salon in November 1995, concentrating on the editorial content for much of '96.

Mr. O'Donnell, formerly VP-worldwide sales for entertainment software company Rocket Science Games, came on board in December to strengthen the magazines' financial infrastructure.

PROMOTION UNDERWAY

"We expect to become profitable in this next year," says Mr. O'Donnell, explaining that they've undertaken several initiatives for this year to promote the 'zine. One addition: recruiting VP-Marketing Marc Wernick, formerly of Ogilvy & Mather, Los Angeles. Mr. Wernick will oversee an in-house marketing blitz of roughly $500,000 in online and traditional media.

Salon's alliance with book retailer Borders Group has also been instrumental in getting the word out, Mr. Talbot says.

Borders, which sponsors Salon's book review section, has expanded to back the music section.

"It's provided another dimension for us to explore in our store," says Marilyn Slankard, VP-marketing for Borders, "and another way to provide information that's of interest to our customers."

The magazine is aiming to beef up its advertising, Mr. O'Donnell says, adding more commerce, or click-and-buy, buttons to make online purchases easier.

Advertisers include Intel Corp., IBM Corp. and Adobe Systems.

LOOKING UPSCALE

Michael Hirshoren, interactive media planner at Ogilvy & Mather Direct, New York, says placing IBM ads with Salon was an effort to reach an upscale audience.

"They have a great sense of community and being able attract a loyal user," Mr. Hirshoren says.

Advertising alone can't support this venture, which is why Mr. O'Donnell says Salon will be planning a diversified business model.

Within the next six months, Salon will be launching a loyalty program that offers perks, such as access to special areas of "Table Talk" or to a Borders book signing, for an annual fee expected to be between $29 and $49.

When it comes down to it, though, Ms. Slankard believes it's the quality of Salon's content that's drawing people. She adds, "As more and more people get

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