Ziff-Davis eyes the consumer market

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The strategy for Ziff-Davis Publishing under new owner James D. Dunning Jr. is emerging even before the sale has closed. The technology magazine publisher plans to launch a travel magazine and is tweaking existing titles -- all of which signals a shift toward the consumer market.

The new magazine will be produced in partnership with Expedia.com, a travel Web site recently spun off from Microsoft Corp. Meanwhile, Ziff-Davis in recent weeks has turned PC Computing into Smart Business for the New Economy, and introduced a redesign of PC Magazine to make it more accessible to a wider audience.

"These things were already in the works, but certainly Jim's involvement has been a catalyst to move all of this along," said James Spanfeller, exec VP-publishing director for ZD's consumer group.

Mr. Spanfeller oversees most of the titles on which the mainstream consumer reputation will rest, including Yahoo! Internet Life, Family PC, EShopper and Smart Business.

FOLLOWING A TEMPLATE

"We are following the Yahoo! Internet Life template for success," Mr. Dunning said. "As the new agendas of technology influence special interest, publishing opportunities will be there. We will be there. This is very much where we are heading."

Expedia.com Editor at Large Richard Bangs was in search of a partner to do a magazine, and the success of Yahoo! Internet Life prompted him to contact Mr. Spanfeller last summer. Mr. Bangs was a key member of the team that produced the shortlived online travel adventure magazine Mungo Park.

"In the 18 months we were doing Mungo Park, one of the things I learned acutely is that the online space is one of gathering information and interactions," Mr. Bangs said. "Offline is primarily where people get their inspiration for what trips they want to take, whether it's movies, books or magazines."

The partnership with Ziff-Davis, Mr. Bangs believed, made the most sense because of the myriad ways the two could help each other. Expedia.com users all own computers; Ziff-Davis publishes many computer titles. Expedia.com could use some offline branding; a new title launch benefits from key online subscription marketing tactics. The link with Expedia.com guarantees the still-to-be-titled magazine will be introduced to an audience receptive to subscription offers.

The title, set for a late summer launch, will have a paid circulation of 200,000. An editor and publisher have yet to be hired, but Mr. Spanfeller hopes to have those positions filled within a month.

The joint venture will go up against well established travel books such as American Express Publishing Corp.'s Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Publications' Conde Nast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Travel Holiday and newcomer Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, recently purchased by Newsweek.

A SKEPTICAL ADVERTISER

At least one advertiser is skeptical about the Ziff-Davis title and its ability to be editorially objective. "It sounds like they are asking people to pay for the manual for how to use Expedia," said Gene DeWitt, chairman of DeWitt Media. "If a travel agent started a magazine, I'd be suspicious. If an airline started a travel magazine, I'd be suspicious."

Dunning and Chicago-based investment firm Willis Stein & Partners agreed Dec. 13 to purchase Ziff-Davis for $780 million. The acquisition should be complete by the end of February.

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