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,On a shelf near David Pecker's desk is a crash helmet, a gift from the editor of Road & Track after Mr. Pecker was injured in a car accident two years ago.

The helmet could come in handy as Mr. Pecker leads Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' headlong drive into the largely uncharted terrain of interactive communications.

At a time when many publishers are keeping a wary eye on new media developments, Hachette is racing into the future and placing a hefty bet on consumers' desire to interact with their computers and TV sets.

"I'm looking at this as a gold rush and the first person to put his stake in the ground is going to be the leader," said Mr. Pecker, the 42-year-old president-ceo of Hachette's U.S. magazine publishing operations.

Whether Hachette will strike gold or strike out remains to be seen. But the company has been moving aggressively on various new-media fronts. Among its current projects:

A deal with industry titan Tele-Communications Inc. to develop a cable TV network based on Road & Track, Car and Driver and Cycle World. A test is scheduled for March with a late 1994 launch possible.

Expansion of TV Car Showroom, a home shopping show sponsored by General Motors Corp. that ran on Home Shopping Network in November and December.

Evaluations of stand-alone entertainment, information and shopping networks for cable based on Woman's Day, Elle and three home magazines.

Participation by Elle Decor in Apple Computer's new electronic home shopping CD-ROM project.

A CD-ROM based on Car & Driver, including video road tests, that will be marketed later this year. (Hachette plans to produce 10 CD-ROMs by 1995).

A deal with America Online to introduce online versions of auto magazines as well as Flying, Stereo Review and Popular Photography by the end of the first quarter.

To oversee those projects and sort through the dozens of proposals that hit his desk each month, Mr. Pecker in late December formed Hachette Filipacchi Multimedia and tapped Mario Cooper to run the new unit as VP. Convention manager for the 1992 Democratic National Convention, Mr. Cooper was most recently a senior VP at public relations agency Porter/Novelli.

Mr. Pecker also formed an alliance with Hollywood talent shop International Creative Management "to represent our magazines and editors in the multimedia arena," in his words.

While Hachette's investment in new media pales in comparison to the spending of companies like TCI and Time Warner, its goals are lofty.

Mr. Pecker said he will spend more than $10 million to develop electronic versions of his company's special-interest magazines over the next three years. In five years, he predicts, "probably 20% of our revenues will come from the multimedia side," an estimated $80 million.

Some publishers believe Mr. Pecker has set his sights too high, but he insists the goal is realistic. Besides, Hachette-a French-owned company that's something of an enigma in U.S. publishing circles-has always marched to its own beat.

"Hachette is a little more aggressive than most publishers and is certainly one of the leaders in trying to figure out how these new-media capabilities will affect their existing businesses," said America Online President Steve Case, who has cut deals with dozens of magazines. "They're not going to be left behind as this new-media age emerges."

Among other publishers, Time Inc. and General Media International have a similar edge, Mr. Case said.

For all his interest in new media, Mr. Pecker is not a high-tech disciple. In fact, he describes himself as "computer illiterate" and does not even keep a PC in his office.

But Barry Diller's move to QVC Network and the blockbuster planned merger of TCI and Bell Atlantic Corp. sounded a clear wake-up call, he said.

Mr. Pecker views magazines as key providers of the software that will be needed to fill the information superhighway. And he thinks Hachette is well-positioned because its areas of expertise-auto, home, con-

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sumer electronics, beauty and fashion-translate easily to electronic forms.

"If you have the strongest franchises, you should be able to weather the rocky road" of interactive media's early days, he said. "In this type of venture, it's well worth the risk," he said. "If you just sit back and don't take advantage of all there is to learn, it's going to be really difficult to compete, especially if you're an advertiser-driven vehicle."

Profits from new media, he admits, are still several years away, "but if you launch a magazine, you don't see any return on investment for three to five years."

While some pundits say new-media developments will threaten print's health, Mr. Pecker believes they will actually raise consumer awareness of magazines and ultimately strengthen the franchises' circulation and ad sales efforts.

If he's wrong, he's willing to pay the price.

"We may make mistakes, but we try things," Mr. Pecker said. "The worst thing to do is to be sedate. That's a formula for failure."M


David Pecker is pushing Hachette into everything from niche cable TV networks to CD-ROM home shopping projects.

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