MEDIA: WOMEN’S WEB SITES - Sisters are doing it for themselves/Women’s magazine publishers are racing to exploit the largely untapped potential of the web, but their success will depend on the growth of e-commerce

If you are IPC - the leading publisher of women’s lifestyle magazines - the emergence of the internet is pretty frightening. Could all those magazine franchises which have been the basis of your business for the best part of a century be usurped by web sites?

If you are IPC - the leading publisher of women’s lifestyle

magazines - the emergence of the internet is pretty frightening. Could

all those magazine franchises which have been the basis of your business

for the best part of a century be usurped by web sites?



To insure against this, IPC, with 23 women’s magazines, is next month

launching its own women’s lifestyle web site, entirely independent of

its magazine titles. It is an indication of the importance that IPC puts

on the BeMe.com project that the company has recruited the editor of

EMAP’s Looks magazine, Eleni Kyriacou, to oversee content for the

site.



BeMe.Com joins a market that is already busy. Associated Newspapers’

Charlotte Street.com site, and The Telegraph Group’s Handbag.com both

launched last autumn, supported by significant advertising

campaigns.



There is some evidence that the sites are finding a willing audience,

with women using them as content sources and lifestyle accessories in

the same way they do magazines.



Research for Handbag.com has found that 30 per cent of women internet

users said they had heard of the site, compared with 50 per cent for

bookseller Amazon. Handbag also claims 300,000 people have accessed the

site since launch. CharlotteStreet claims to have around 147,000 core

users, with 2.1 million page impressions recorded a month.



The site owners are keen to stress that they are not in the business of

simply replicating women’s magazine fare on-line. But given that the

audience is much the same, it is not surprising that the same subjects

(relationships, careers, family) feature heavily.



The interactive element allows the sector’s traditional expert advice to

be given more efficiently, as well as generating quicker polls and the

opportunity for on-line games. The sites can also develop as

’communities’, allowing topical discussions via its message boards.



The three sites use slightly different approaches. Handbag has 18

different ’channels’ of content on different subjects, much supplied by

independent operators. The idea is to develop the site as a portal to

other sites.



The Associated site is a destination in itself, and both Associated and

IPC mostly use their own content.



As yet, the sites will have little by way of an income, but this could

change if e-commerce takes off in a big way this year. Research for

Handbag suggests that women make 75 per cent of the buying decisions in

the home, and a site that is a regular port of call for large numbers of

working women has obvious value.





CHARLOTTESTREET.COM



Launch: October 1999



Updates: at least three times a day



Position: editor



’We are aiming at a female audience aged between 25 and 55, but mainly

in their late-20s and early-40s. It is a middle-class audience, similar

to the so-called middle-youth market served by magazines like Red.



’We are going for the people that have some responsibilities and we

provide information that can help them. I think Handbag is a bit younger

- it does more fashion- and beauty-type things. We do more on childcare,

pensions, workplace rights, how to make the most of your time and get

the best for your family. A lot of web sites are still a bit geeky, we

are trying to be more friendly and sassy.’



’Being part of Associated Newspapers gives us an advantage, we have the

right to take things from the company’s titles, including the Daily Mail

and the Evening Standard, but we don’t have the same political line and

we go into more detail. Our site is free access, but you have to

register to join in the message boards and then you become a member.



’When we set this up there were no female-friendly web sites in the UK.

Newspapers are run by men and news stories with a female focus do not

tend to get the space they deserve. Take the recent story on breast

cancer screening - we can go into that in a lot of detail.



’At the moment, advertising is the main source of revenue, but I think

e-commerce will get a lot bigger next year.’





BEME.COM



Launch: February 2000



Updates: continually



Position: women’s media director



’We are a women’s portal launching out of the biggest publisher of

women’s magazines in Europe, so obviously we have expertise in this

area. We know women - but we’re not just a women’s channel. We welcome

men, too. It is aimed at women who aren’t interested in being labelled,

who want to be themselves, yet who want to be connected to a wider

community.



’These are not just magazines on the web, if they were, nobody would

read them. The beauty of the web is that you can learn about things,

find solutions now; today; this minute. Information needs to be provided

in witty nuggets to achieve this. It’s like written talking, or live

radio - the way Alistair Cooke writes his Letter From America is

perfectly suited to on-line style.



’We are trying to achieve everything that’s not yet been achieved - we

want fresh, warm, easily accessible information on a site that’s

actually a nice place to be, and one that doesn’t look like a cross

between a text book and a fruit machine. People will use our site

intuitively. We have fried many brain cells working out a seamless

navigational journey to avoid user web rage. Our site will develop with

more of a TV feel and, with our links with IPC Magazines, be more

connected to a female audience. There will be six content channels with

25 editorial staff producing them.’





HANDBAG.COM



Launch: October 1999



Updates: continually



Position: editorial director



’Handbag is a joint venture between Boots and the Telegraph Group.

Ninety per cent of women go to Boots once a month, so the company

believes it is in a special position to know the women’s market and the

Telegraph was the first paper to go on-line, so it has always been

progressive in this medium.



’We have a much fuller offering than other sites. Each of our 18

channels has a theme; for example the technology centre gives you e-mail

and helps you build your own web page. We have ten editorial staff and

work with content providers - we’re not just commissioning it all or

taking it from the Telegraph. Sainsbury’s is coming on-line with us

shortly.



’Our target market is not defined by age - we are looking for people

with similar interests. Travel is one of the key things, plus managing

finances, homes and gardens. I think there is a big enough market for us

and the other sites - look at all the magazines in newsagents. But we

don’t want to replicate a magazine on-line. We wanted to mix the

closeness of magazines with the interactive features of the net, so we

have things like quizzes, games and votes.



’We wanted to give people access to experts on line: Gordon Ramsay for

cookery, for example. We also wanted to build interactivity with

bulletin boards and things like the ’bosses hall of shame’.’



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