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PUBLISHERS' NEW STOMPING GROUNDS TIMES MIRROR, AMEX HOPE CD-ROM PROJECT IS FRUITFUL

By Published on .

Times Mirror Co. in August will introduce its first CD-ROM based on a magazine. But in a twist that shows the unusual offspring of publisher-software developer marriages, the disc won't be for a Times Mirror magazine.

The CD-ROM, "Food & Wine's Wine Tasting," will bear the Times Mirror Multimedia Corp. imprint, but the pedigree of American Express Publishing Corp. and Ehrlich Multimedia, a small Park Ridge, N.J., multimedia developer acquired by Times Mirror last March.

Times Mirror and Ehrlich will keep all the revenues generated by sales of the $60 disc, while AmEx receives a royalty for licensing the Food & Wine name.

This type of three-way partnership may become more common as traditional publishers grapple with ways to extend their brand names to new technologies. How Times Mirror handles its relationship with Ehrlich may well be a blueprint for other publishers looking to acquire multimedia developers. But in these early days of convergence, nothing is set in stone.

"We haven't developed any hard and fast policies on this," said David Wogahn, a senior executive with Times Mirror Multimedia, a unit formed last December to market CD-ROMs. "We need to look at it on a case by case basis."

Washington Post Co. is taking a similar tack with Mammoth Micro Productions. Mammoth, 80%-owned by the Post Co., is the primary developer on Newsweek InterActive but has the freedom to develop and market its own line of CD-ROMs as well as discs based on non-Post Co. properties.

Ehrlich cut the deal with AmEx after its acquisition by Times Mirror was announced. It had already developed a wine tasting program, and AmEx was a willing participant, said President Alexander Ehrlich.

"There's no magazine in the Times Mirror magazine group that would compete directly with Food & Wine," Mr. Ehrlich said. "In this case there was a mutual understanding with Food & Wine and the AmEx publishing group. In this case, it wasn't an issue."

But it very well could be, down the road.

"Times Mirror didn't buy [Ehrlich] because it's a robust piece of business. They bought it to bring in new technologies and new skills," said Leo Scullin, president of New York media consultancy Scullin & Co. "I suspect that Times Mirror will wink at this one and firmly resist any such future relationships."

Times Mirror, however, says it's using the disc to extend its name into a category where it doesn't have a presence. Most of its magazines, such as Field & Stream and Outdoor Life, target men and the outdoors.

"This is something that we sought out and did, and we'll do future things like this to promote a product or a service that Times Mirror doesn't have the materials to promote," Mr. Wogahn said.

Similarly, AmEx gets to dip into a medium in which it doesn't yet have expertise.

"Our feeling is that we have developed content and point of view in our magazines, and we're happy to license that asset," said Richard Huttner, VP-books and information services at AmEx's publishing group.

The CD-ROM features information on 48 wines that consumers can buy and taste, recording their comments and comparing them with a wine expert's notes. Users can learn about wine varieties and even use the disc to organize a wine tasting party.

The disc will be advertised in Food & Wine and promoted to the magazine's cookbook club.

A second Times Mirror disc, "CyberBoogie With Sharon, Lois & Bram," targets kids with a do-it-yourself animated show featuring songs from the Canadian entertainers. That disc, also due out in August, will be backed by cable TV and print advertising.

Future Ehrlich discs will feature Times Mirror properties, Mr. Wogahn said, but the multimedia developer won't be a shoo-in.

"Each of the Times Mirror companies has the ability to pursue digital products on their own," Mr. Wogahn said. "They're completely open whether they go with Ehrlich or with an outside firm."

And Ehrlich has the same freedom to develop software for other media companies, although all parties acknowledge competitive conflicts are bound to come up.

"In a field like high technology and new communications media, it's really important for companies to cooperate and stay on top and have an edge in moving forward," Mr. Ehrlich said. "I think it's a model that we'd like to work with. And we'll see; I think we'll have to see how things shake out."

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