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When The Advocate arrives on the World Wide Web on Dec. 26, it will mark one of the most prominent efforts yet to reach gays and lesbians online.

The ad-supported site will carry editorial similar to the print vehicle and will cost the every-other-weekly magazine more than $100,000 a year to run, said Editor Jeff Yarbrough.

The site will charge advertisers $2,500 per page per month.

So far, efforts to reach gays and lesbians online have come mainly from start-up operations, not brand-name publications.

While gay and lesbian magazine Out launched on the Web in June (http://www.out.com), other ad-supported magazinelike sites have sprouted up recently, such as GaySource (http://gaysource.com) and Q San Francisco (http://qsanfrancisco.com). PlanetOut, meanwhile, created a site on Microsoft Network and is planning to move to America Online and the Web.

"The gay audience online is immense and they're also critical," said Michael Goff, Out president and editor. "You can't just put up something with `gay' on it and expect them to come. People want quality, to connect with a community of people and information they can trust."

Out.com is already "almost breaking even" between ad revenues and funds generated from the 3,000 discount print subscriptions sold online, Mr. Goff said.

The site has had about 100,000 visitors since it launched. Ad rates run as high as $10,000 per month for major promotions; advertisers have included founding sponsor Apple Computer and Paddington Corp.'s Baileys Irish Cream liqueur.

It's believed that the percentage of the gay and lesbian population online is greater than the percentage of the general public online, but there is little actual research available to support that contention. A March 1995 study conducted for Out by Mediamark Research found that 48.2% of the magazine's readers were online subscribers. Nielsen Media Research and CommerceNet this fall concluded that 24 million people, or 11% of the U.S. and Canadian population age 16 and older, are on the Internet.

Marketers are becoming more aware of the demographic power of the gay and lesbian market, a market that in many ways resembles the overall online user market-educated and with above-average income.

"Online is only at the cusp of something that's going to be huge and will probably become one of the primary vehicles to reach [gays and lesbians]. It's a great way of narrowcasting," said John Aronsohn, senior analyst with Yankee Group, Boston.

Michael Franz and life partner Jerry Caffarello bypassed the print magazine business altogether in launching GaySource on Aug. 1, for $30,000.

"One great benefit of launching on the Internet is that it doesn't cost much [to publish there] and there are no paper or postage costs," said Mr. Franz.

GaySource, sponsored by AT&T and Carillon Importers' Stolichnaya, carries news from five local markets, fashion layouts, cultural reviews and, currently, interviews with musician Cyndi Lauper and openly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.). Unusual features include "Astor Place," a weekly soap opera that will soon become interactive, where viewers vote on plot twists. The site's ad rates are $7,500 for a month on the home page. Advertising in the seven-city Marketplace section, coming in January, will cost $1,000 per month.

Q San Francisco launched in June in both print and online versions.

While the print version was conceived as "a city magazine focused on the gay and lesbian community," the online version targets "a gay and lesbian universe beyond San Francisco," said Publisher Don Tut-hill, who rolled out the publications with his life partner, Robert Adams.

Mr. Tuthill, who helped launch Genre and recently worked for The Advocate, said he started QSF because he perceived a growing number of advertisers wanted to reach gays and lesbians regionally. The travel section of the site is one of the most popular, he said, and the site claims 16,000 visits per month.

Online ad rates range from $750 to $3,000 monthly; the Virtual Shopper section runs $250 per month.

PlanetOut, a service launched on Microsoft Network in August, has commitments from most national gay and lesbian organizations to provide information on outreach and activism programs.

The site this month begins offering users access to a virtual chat environment called V-Chat.

Support from marketers such as Stolichnaya, which has a long history of advertising to the gay community, is critical for the upstarts and the brand-name online products as well.

"Gay media are very important to Stoli," said Anne Censullo, associate media director at Margeotes, Fertitta, Donaher & Weiss, New York. "We've been very happy with the amount of traffic they generate for Stoli Central (http://www.stoli.com)."

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