"If it keeps going at this rate," said one editor of a regional title, "you will see the revenue of the website, probably in two years, exceed the revenue of the print side."
But advertisers, youth consultants and some publishers say nothing of the sort will be automatic for teen sites based on print titles.
Working with big guns
The young people who are today's influencers and tomorrow's dominant consumers are flooding not magazine sites but flexible, fun behemoths such as MySpace and Facebook. So publishers who want their sites to make real money -- increasingly imperative as the media business evolves -- will have to loosen their grips and find out how the mega-sites can help them.
Last month MySpace, without the trust or intimacy of magazine sites, got nearly 7.8 million unique visitors ages 12 to 17, according to ComScore Media Metrix. Seventeen.com drew 216,000. And TeenVogue.com? Just 43,000. People.com, a broader site, got 408,000.
Marketers may love multiplatform ad buys and precision targeting, but most are still going to follow the numbers. "You want to be where most of the fish are," said Jeremy Tate, an account director at Media Contacts, where he helps tout student loans from First Marblehead.
Print ad pages still bring in much higher rates than pixels and pop-ups. At Teen Vogue, for example, the site's mission comprises extending the brand; providing a forum where readers can connect with editors and each other; and offering information about promotions, events and advertisers' products. "The magazine website serves as another touch point," said VP-Publisher Gina Sanders.
As online ad spending rises, however, sites may have to edge away from their mother ships. "As long as the print piece is the core and the web partner piece is kind of an echo of that, the web property will be quite weak, especially with young people," said Samantha Skey, exec VP-strategic marketing at Alloy Media and Marketing, which runs web-only Alloy.com and helped develop ElleGirl.com for Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.
The once-promising ElleGirl magazine was pulled from print in April 2006 despite paid circulation approaching 600,000. That July, ElleGirl.com drew 35,000 unique visitors ages 12 to 17, according to ComScore. By July 2007, that number was 92,000, a gain of 163%.
"We definitely have seen upward growth since the magazine folded," said Ann Marie MacDougall, director of sales for the women's group online. "One reason why is because we really have no companion magazine to live up to, so to speak, so we're able to really respond editorially to what this teen market is asking for."
"A lot of magazine publishers still believe that the website should mirror the magazine," Ms. MacDougall added. "The concept here is that we're building digital brands."
Hearst Magazines has adopted a philosophy of encouraging independence." I don't think of Seventeen.com as a 'wingman' to the magazine," said Chris Johnson, VP-content and business development, Hearst Magazines Digital Media. "It's its own personality unto itself."
At Condé Nast's web-only Flip.com, critics have suggested growth has been stunted because users can't upload their flipbooks to sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Unburdened by any magazine legacy to serve or protect, however, Flip is considering not only making the books portable but distributing a scaled-down version of its creation tool.