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Web-Only magazines: Real business or face saver?

When Time Inc. killed off Teen People last July but decided to continue publishing it online, the move made sense to some observers, given teen media usage habits. Nearly a year later, though, the site’s audience size has dwindled to 218,000 uniques, according to comScore Media

Metrics, and by the end of this month, TeenPeople.com will be absorbed by People.com.

Other magazines, however, continue to forge ahead with Web-only brands. Hachette Filipacchi Media’s Elle Girl and Premiere, Emap’s FHM, Time Inc.’s Life and Meredith Corp.’s Child have all maintained an online presence despite having folded the title.

Yet TeenPeople.com’s end as a stand-alone raises questions about the model’s sustainability. Serge Del Grosso, executive vp, director of media planning at Lowe New York, said he believed the practice of keeping defunct magazines online is oftentimes not worth the effort. “It’s an attempt to wring some value out of the existing equity,” he noted. “[But] it will probably start fading as a strategy.”

Mark Golin, editor of People.com, said that while advertisers want to reach teens, People’s larger site is better trafficked. “It was more [a question] of, why duplicate efforts?” he said.

Web-only brands’ audiences remain small, according to comScore, whose data show neither TeenPeople.com, ElleGirl.com or FHMonline.com cracked 500,000 as of this March. ElleGirl.com’s audience totaled 460,000 in March, from 302,000 a year earlier, according to comScore, although ElleGirl.com said its internal data show unique users actually number about 529,145 today. TeenPeople.com’s had 693,000 unique visitors in March 2006, but a year later, had fallen to less than half that. FHM Online’s audience totaled 184,000 in March 2007 from 257,000 a year earlier. (Scott Kritz, editor in chief of the site, said FHM Online’s internal count shows its audience has been steady at 1.4 million unique users for the past year with about 16 million page impressions per month.)

Nonetheless, some magazine executives remain bullish about the future of their online-only titles. After folding Elle Girl, Hachette relaunched ElleGirl.com, introducing daily mobile text-alerts, video and a feature that lets users customize the site. Marta Wöhrle, senior vp, director of digital media, Hachette, said she initially wondered if the site would succeed on its own. One advertiser Wöhrle declined to name in fact said it wouldn’t advertise on the site if the magazine folded, although it ended up reversing that decision. “You never know; there could been many more saying, ‘Without the brand outside the digital [site], we’re not sure how successful you’ll be,’” she said. Still, the relaunched site and its mobile offering won such new advertisers as Target and Cover Girl.

“It’s where that demographic is,” Wöhrle said, explaining the site’s reason for being. “Young, teenage women, they’re online. They’re not at the newsstand. They’re looking at their mobile phones and at their computer screens.”

As for Premiere.com, Hachette plans to broaden its audience beyond the cinephiles that the print version appealed to, which it hopes will attract more studio advertising.

Emap’s FHM, meanwhile, which died with the March issue after a seven-year lifespan, has redoubled its efforts to turn FHMonline.com into a regular destination. It recently added Daily Dose, a collection on the home page of quick-read tidbits like jokes and Girl of the Day. It also enhanced its video portion to allow for more interactivity, and by May is aiming to have new daily material in every section.

Kritz said he initially had concerns that a stand-alone site wouldn’t pan out, but strong advertiser interest dispelled them. Miller Brewing, which had been a print and online advertiser, shifted its print dollars to online after the magazine was suspended. Other new advertisers that have come on board since the magazine folded are Buell Motorcycles, the G4 TV network and the Atlantis hotel. It’s also begun selling 15- and 30-second pre-roll ads (Sony Playstation). College-age kids, Kritz said, “know FHM as an online property.”

G. Alex Singh, senior vp, group account director, MediaCom, who handles planning for print, online and other media, said online-only magazines can have merit if they support the advertiser’s strategy and targeting goals. He said sites aren’t necessarily more valuable if they have a print complement, especially if their audiences have significant overlap and an advertiser is trying to capture a wider audience. Singh said he’s had clients who advertised on ElleGirl.com and would consider such online-only models for his current clients, who are luxury-goods marketers. “Are we looking seriously at Web sites without a print counterpart? Absolutely,” he said.

Others think magazines still need a print component. Offline media continue to be heavy drivers of online media, Del Grosso said. “The competitive frame for the Web is entirely different,” he said. “Without a massive infusion of content, promotion, the viability [of online-only titles] is limited.”

Date posted: April 16, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 356