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With 20 million Americans putting down stakes in the cybercity of the Internet and private online services, it seems fitting that magazine publishers are offering titles detailing where to go and what to do online.

But publishers have distinctly different ideas of what these cybercitizens want to read when they're not linking up the modem.

It remains to be seen whether consumers and advertisers can recognize the distinctions or will favor specific titles.

"There's a definite purpose and need for these publications," says Allen Banks, exec VP-director of media, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York. "With so many publications, sure, that's overkill, and it may well come down to who has the right editorial mix."

Among the newcomers are Virtual City, which labels itself the "city magazine of cyberspace"; ZD Internet Life, how-tos, news and reviews intended primarily for novice Internet users; and Time Digital, which intends to cover the universe of digital communications, not just the Internet and cyberspace.

These three books join established publications such as Internet World, NetGuide, and OnLine Access-all of which try to make sense of the often Byzantine global computer network.

"Everyone is talking about getting online, but there is a huge population of consumers, predominantly home users, who don't have any idea of how to go about it," says Hans Logie, VP-associate media director on the Dell Computer Corp. account at Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco.

"Maybe when everyone is online, we won't need any paper guidebooks, but there really isn't a really good vehicle online to get people online," he adds.

It would be a mistake to lump all the Internet publications together as carbon copies of the other.

Virtual City, a joint venture between San Francisco-based Virtual Communications and Newsweek, already has been dubbed the "Entertainment Weekly" of the cybervillage, a nickname that Publisher-Editorial Director Jonathan Sacks regards with pride.

Virtual City, which appeared in September and will run monthly next year, brings online news, reviews of new Web sites and CD-ROMs, and articles on topics such as whether cybersex is adultery or if the 'Net is a source of information or a new way to waste time, to the mass audience.

"We are not trying to be a computer magazine or an Internet guide magazine but a city magazine of culture and lifestyle for people who see online as an important aspect of their lives," says Mr. Sacks.

Virtual City's inaugural issue carries ads for computers, distilled spirits, financial services and automobiles, with a color page ad costing $12,500. Newsstand distribution is 300,000, for a cost-per-thousand reader figure of $41.67. Alternately, for $59,570, advertisers may also opt for an additional 1 million distribution through Newsweek Business Plus editions. Virtual City's editorial also is available online.

ZD Internet Life, to debut this month on newsstands only, is one facet of a three-part effort.

The magazine, from Ziff-Davis Publishing Co., comes with a CD-ROM that will help novice Internet users choose an Internet provider and sign onto the Web.

The quarterly publication, with a 100,000 rate base, is positioned as a one-time guide. The intent is that a reader would buy ZD Internet Life once just to learn how to get online. After that, readers would use the CD-ROM to find reviews of Web sites and then go online to these sites or to Internet Life's home page.

Each component carries advertising, with the rate card structured to encourage placing ads in all three media. A color page ad costs $6,050 in the magazine, but with the CD-ROM and Web site, the total is $7,985, for a CPM of $79.85.

"We're presenting a new and exciting way for computer users and advertisers to become acquainted with the Internet," says Jack Dolce, president of InterActive Enterprises, which is in charge of ZD Internet Life.

In sharp contrast, Time Inc.'s Time Digital intends to offer readers in-depth coverage of how technology is reshaping the workplace and the personal lives of consumers.

The proposed editorial mix will offer advice and developments on technology issues for readers who don't have the time or inclination to read computer books but still need to keep up with technology.

"People are aware that technology is having a profound impact on their lives but haven't been able to understand exactly what's happening," says Lee Eisenberg, Time Digital editor and creative director. "Our mission is to make some sense of all the changes brought about by the digital age."

Time Digital, primarily bound into Time with some additional distribution through standalone copies at selected computer retailers, made its debut Nov. 6 with a rate base of 900,000. Next year a color page ad for the quarterly publication will cost $62,000, for a CPM of $68.89.

Compared with the these three newcomers, the established online books are more similar in editorial focus. The approach taken by these incumbents is that the Internet is a communications tool, not a lifestyle.

NetGuide, from CMP Publications, is a monthly guide to online services and the Internet focusing on technology that "enhances" the online experience, says Publisher Beth Haggerty. NetGuide lists paid circulation of 250,000 as of January 1996, with color page rates at $12,500.

Internet World, from Meckler-Media, takes the most "techie" approach to the Internet guides.

"We're written for the Internet savvy reader, the power reader," and not a beginner, says Paul Bonington, senior VP-magazine group and publisher of MecklerMedia's magazines. BPA audited circulation figures show Internet World with 207,846 paid subscribers as of June 1995. The color page rate is $12,500.

On the other hand, Online Access, a 155,000 circulation monthly, is very beginner-friendly, filling its pages with tips and hints on how to use the Internet, even doing features on the basics of sending e-mail via America Online. A color page costs $6,540.

Despite the glut of titles, media buyers say so far having so many choices actually is a win-win situation.

"These are opportunistic ad buys," says Ian Beavis, exec VP-management director, Saatchi & Saatchi DFS Pacific, Los Angeles, who supervises the Toyota Motor Corp. account. Toyota operates its own Web site and is buying ads in the online books to advertise its Web address.

"They don't cost very much, they give us great exposure to a new audience and [Toyota] looks cutting edge...advertising in these new publications," Mr. Beavis says.

"We don't know which of these magazines will appeal to online users, which is why we're trying the ads now and not in 1996," says Tom Burke, VP-new business marketing at Discovery Channel, which is advertising its Web site in each of these titles. "This is a market that changes very quickly, and we have to stay on top of it."

Observers predict there will be more entries in the category before any shakeout begins. In addition, no one is entirely sure what Internet users want to read, let alone whether they want it in print or online.

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