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'NET FINALLY SNARES CONDE NAST PUBLISHER PLAYS CATCH-UP WITH WEB SITES LINKED TO TRAVEL, FOOD MAGAZINES

By Published on .

One of the last major magazine publishing holdouts is finally taking the plunge into cyberspace.

Conde Nast Publications today will formally take the wraps off CondeNet, a new unit devoted to publishing on the Internet's World Wide Web.

The first title to go up will be Conde Nast Traveler in mid-June. Epicurious, a food-oriented site from Gourmet and Bon Appetit, will make its debut in mid-August.

Rochelle Udell, 50, VP-creative marketing/new media, will be president of CondeNet.

The company is negotiating with a major telecommunications company to advertise on the Traveler site.

"If it is not there by opening day it will be shortly thereafter," said Ms. Udell.

The price tag for a three-month run will be competitive with other services, she said. Observers estimate the quarterly advertising fee will be in the $25,000 to $30,000 range.

Joining CondeNet as director of sales and marketing is Deanna Brown, most recently ad sales manager at Premiere. In other appointments, Joan Feeney, pre-viously executive editor at Mademoiselle, will be editor of Epicurious.

Conde Nast is often slow to respond to industry trends and has been criticized for failing to embrace cyberspace sooner. Ms. Udell was named to her new-media post two years ago, but until now the company has done little in the interactive realm.

"Up until this point, Conde Nast was doing a lot of talk," said Roberta Garfinkle, senior VP-director of print media at McCann-Erickson, New York. She nonetheless doesn't think the publisher has lost too much ground.

But most major publishers have made big strides in recent years.

Time Inc. has put nearly all of its magazines on various commercial online services and opened a major hub on the Web, Pathfinder. Hearst Corp. created a Web-based "newsstand" offering magazine subscriptions, and its new-media unit is developing CD-ROMs and interactive TV programs. And Hachette Filipacchi Magazines has taken a lead in the women's field, where it competes heavily with Conde Nast, creating online editions of Elle and Woman's Day, among others.

Conde Nast, naturally, defends the long wait.

"We did not get out there first, but we feel we are learning from earlier mistakes and that our product is really upscale in appearance [and] that it represents the second generation in online services," said Aaron Sugarman, a senior editor at Conde Nast Traveler and one of the architects of the magazine's site.

The first component of Conde Nast Traveler Online will launch on June 15 with detailed reports on island resorts worldwide, including ratings of more than 1,000 hotels and inns.

The service will also provide a daily update of key travel news from around the world as well as games and puzzles centered on geography.

Conde Nast Traveler Online intends to pursue the same no-holds-barred travel reporting that has been a trademark of the monthly title.

"We hope to be as critical as we are in the magazine," said Mr. Sugarman.

Ms. Udell said she eventually hopes to link travel reservation services to the site. At the outset, users will be able to sort through a variety of topics including type of resort, activities, price range and even whether baby-sitting services are offered.

The initial database has 250 destinations ranging from tropical Caribbean spots to frigid Norwegian islands.

"You set the parameters and it adjusts to your interests," said Mr. Sugarman.

Users also will be able to send e-mail to and chat with the magazine's editors and other users.

CondeNet's site will use advanced compression technology to deliver striking four-color photographs of exotic locales.

"I'm stunned at how good the pictures came out," said Mr. Sugarman.

Independently of CondeNet, Conde Nast Traveler Online will also be a part of Travel Connect, a World Wide Web travel network launching this summer that will include separate services from The New York Times, Golf Digest and Random House/Fodor's Travel Guides.

Ms. Udell provided no estimates on how soon the parent company expected to see a return on its investment or how much money was earmarked for investment in the new unit.

Open Market, Cambridge, Mass., provided software consulting services to build the Web sites. Conde Nast parent Advance Publications last week acquired an equity stake in Open Market.

Conde Nast's women's magazines like Glamour, Mademoiselle and Allure have yet to do much in new media, although its Self has developed various interactive programs. Ms. Udell said there are plans to develop online services around other Conde Nast titles, including Vogue and Vanity Fair, in 1996.

"Being early wasn't necessarily being right," said Paula Brooks, exec VP-director of media services at Margeotes Fertitta Donaher & Weiss, New York.

"A lot of magazines were just throwing up what we call shovelware. Advertisers who haven't jumped on the bandwagon yet might do so now if the products are better, more relevant and more targeted."

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