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CompuServe in April will add a CD-ROM line extension, a step toward making the computer online service available through new media channels and filling a gap in capabilities.

The CD-ROM will act as a companion to the online service and CompuServe's monthly subscriber magazine by offering sound, video and product demonstrations. Subscribers can toggle between the CD-ROM and online service with the touch of a key.

CompuServe CD will be divided into five departments: technology, personal enterprise, home and leisure, shopping and member services. It will be issued either quarterly or every-other-monthly at first, and eventually will go monthly.

The goal is to use "the power of the CD-ROM to illustrate concepts and to communicate more effectively than we can in the online or print environment today," said Dave Eastburn, VP-business development at CompuServe's Advanced Technologies Group.

CompuServe will provide the CD to its subscribers either free or for a minimal subscription price, yet to be determined. CompuServe says 36% of its 1.7 million subscribers have CD-ROM drives and an additional 35% plan to purchase such a drive in the next year.

CompuServe will advertise the CD-ROM on the online service and in its subscriber magazine. The CD may also be mentioned in general CompuServe advertising, handled by Sive/ Young & Rubicam, Cincinnati.

CompuServe is working with Metatec Corp., Columbus, Ohio, for audio and video production and manufacturing of the disc. Metatec publishes a CD-ROM magazine, Nautilus, and its chairman, Jeffrey Wilkins, was a founder of CompuServe and its chairman-ceo until 1985.

The April CD-ROM will focus on computer graphics, as will the April issue of the print magazine. But where the magazine will offer text and pictures about computer image scanning equipment, for example, the CD will offer a demo of actual software.

"The idea is that we would have a fully functional demo version of the product that you could run from the CD-ROM, and if you decided to order it, you could place an order through the CD-ROM and it would deposit that order on the online service," Mr. Eastburn said.

The CD will also enhance CompuServe's existing online electronic shopping mall, which features merchandise from more than 100 providers including BMG Compact Disc Club, Brooks Brothers and Hammacher Schlemmer. Owners of CD-ROM drives could listen to a cut from an audio CD and then order it through the online service.

So far, CompuServe hasn't signed any advertisers to appear on the CD-ROM but is in discussions with Warner Records and Geffen Records, both of which operate CompuServe information services, as well as electronic mall tenants.

Initial advertisers will likely pay only a small fee, mostly to defray costs associated with production of the CD-ROM.

Ad rates will rise as CD-ROM subscribers build.

"It's a trend that's going on across the board" among online services, said Joshua Harris, president of consultancy Jupiter Communications. "My understanding with America Online and Prodigy is that they are both actively pursuing the same sort of deal."

But the CDs will probably be only an interim step for online services looking to broaden their capabilities, Mr. Harris said.

"What's probably going to happen is CDs are going to go away or diminish in importance by the time the whole thing gets worked out, because you'll have broadband capabilities" to deliver sound and video over wires instead of on disc.M

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