Online magazines make headway in print; TV next

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While traditional publishers look to establish themselves on the Web, magazines that started online or as CD-ROMs are now trying to brand themselves across a variety of media.

Microsoft Corp.'s Slate is now excerpting highlights as Slate on Paper, a magazine sold at Starbucks Coffee Co. Dennis Publishing's CD-ROM, Blender, now has a Web site.

And while it's not an official zine, the Yahoo! search engine has teamed up with Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. for Yahoo! Internet Life and also has a Yahoo! book series and TV tie-ins.

Interactive publications are careful to describe their efforts as a way to extend their brand name, not a sign that the online or CD-ROM medium isn't working for them.

"Our philosophy is that the only way you make a profit is selling your content into old media," said Joey Anuff, co-founder and producer of Web zine Suck. Suck calls its marketing department the "scam" division, and hands out Suck brochures, condoms, pens, lollipops and T-shirts.


Tom Livaccari, VP-group publisher of the New Media Group at ICon, New York, said when his company launched the zine Word last year, he feared print spinoffs would trample it with their brand-recognition advantage.

"We soon found out it was a whole new level," Mr. Livaccari said, noting how Word suddenly found itself mentioned in the same breath as Time Inc.'s Pathfinder and HotWired.

While TV and radio brand extensions are strong possibilities, as well as a book compilation, Mr. Livaccari said a straight print spinoff isn't likely.

With rising postal and paper costs, he said, "I don't know if it's too wise."


He attributes some of Word's success to the fact that the zine relies on original content as opposed to some of the repurposed media the print spinoffs tend to use.

"We're forced to create brand new content out of the gates," he said. Word's marketing efforts, like those for many low-budget zines, include guerrilla e-mailings, especially to influential makers of hot Web site lists.


While Word has been profitable on a month-to-month basis since January, ICon is investing in a $250,000 Web ad campaign and is planning online merchandise sections for advertisers. The company also is in talks with some commercial providers to license content from Word and its sister zine, Charged.

For Blender, a pop culture CD-ROM, gaining broader awareness hasn't meant a print version, yet. But the two-year-old publication does have the requisite Web site.

"Our biggest challenge is getting advertisers to understand the terminology," said Publisher Jennifer Von Feldt, who helped launch Blender. "They'll say, `How much is its cost per thousand?' and I'll say `Let's talk cost per hour.' "


With research showing readers spend about 3 1/2 hours with each issue, she explained, "It's like a magazine, but they're playing it with the intensity of a videogame."

Ad prices are based on file size--a 5-megabyte ad costs $7,650; 10 megabytes (equivalent to a 60-second spot) go for $15,300.

The current issue features ads for America Online, Apple Computer, Foot Locker, Mountain Dew, Nike, Levi Strauss & Co. and Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Many were created by Blender's in-house advertising agency, Dennis Interactive, and some provide direct access to the advertiser's Web site. Marketers trying to reach the wired generation realize "they've got to talk to them digitally," Ms. Von Feldt said.


Interactive magazines run the risk of appearing like a gimmick if they can be accomplished just as easily on paper, said Patrick Keane, analyst with Jupiter Communications. But he believes off-line promotion is essential to drive traffic.

Blender recently worked with AT&T Corp. on a promotion that included the CD-ROM in a goodie bag giveaway to 500,000 college students, Ms. Von Feldt said. Other planned promotions include an online cocktail party, which will tie in the CD-ROM with one-click access to the Blender Web site.

"It's really difficult to create a brand on the Web," Mr. Keane said. Zines like HotWired that came out of the gates very early, he said, are "still not making any money."

CD-ROMs may have it even harder because so much attention has been focused online in the past year.


While not every zine and CD-ROM is as blatant about its self-promotion as Suck is, all need to get their name out in the general media, Mr. Anuff said.

"You go on CNBC, get a book, write a magazine column--we have plans to do all of those and more."

Copyright November 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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