Called Pathfinder, the World Wide Web area features daily news from Time, Money and Entertainment Weekly; movie reviews; gardening advice; and full-text articles from several magazines.
The site will also include ads. Insiders said AT&T has agreed to be a sponsor, and at press time, MCI Communications was also believed to be close to a deal. The sponsorship price is believed to be between $25,000 and $50,000 per year.
"I think the Web is going to be the cool place to be in the future, and it's nice to be pioneering it," said Walter Isaacson, editor of new media at Time Inc. "I think it is the wave of the future."
But while Time Inc. is going up on the Internet, another smaller publisher, Mecklermedia Corp., sharply curtailed its 'net service last week, underscoring the dangers of doing business on the unregulated network of networks (see related story on Page 42).
Several Time Inc. magazines are already doing business with commercial online services. Time, for example, publishes on America Online, while People, Sports Illustrated and Fortune are going onto CompuServe.
But many observers have questioned why Time Inc.-with its broad array of properties covering such topics as news, sports, entertainment, cooking and personal finances-didn't launch its own full-service online network. Although this move stops short of that, it does give the company the opportunity to combine the best offerings from several publications.
Pathfinder will be available free to consumers with access to the Internet. Time Inc. hopes to recoup its costs through advertising support. The company's goal is to sign 25 to 30 advertisers within six months.
Pathfinder offers text, graphics and still photos; limited audio is also available, but video capability is still somewhere down the road.
In the time-honored tradition of Time Inc., there is still separation of church and state, even in cyberspace. Mr. Isaacson handles the editorial content of the Web site, while Curt Viebranz, president of Time Inc. Multimedia, handles the business side.
"I think the big challenge now is to realize commercialization of the Internet," said Mr. Viebranz. "Right now, the Internet is an exceedingly hard-to-navigate environment that has been built basically for a group of scientists."
Both executives dismissed speculation that the Internet site could eventually undermine Time Inc. magazines' individual commercial online deals.
"I think Time on America Online and our other magazines on CompuServe and Prodigy will continue to be a great business," said Mr. Isaacson. "People are still going to want the convenience of packaging that comes from the services. You have to have a connection to the Internet and the commercial services have a role to play in making connections easier."
The Time Internet site will feature the full text of Time and Vibe for the current issue as well as the past several months. Also included will be selected content culled from at least four other Time Inc.-owned magazines and book divisions.
Entertainment Weekly will contribute movie reviews; Money will add daily personal finance updates.
One section, created especially for the service, is called the "Virtual Garden." It is a collection of information on gardening culled from magazines such as Southern Living and Sunset as well as other Time Warner divisions such as Little Brown and Warner Books and even outside publishers.
The service will provide access to a Time daily news summary-also available on AOL-and an array of searchable databases.
The cost of entry to the Internet was surprisingly low, Mr. Viebranz said, coming in "comfortably within its six-figure budget." Time Inc. expects the project to break even or turn a profit within the first year.
"You can't afford not to do this," Mr. Viebranz said.