Women's sites change the conversation

The basic criticism of traditional women's magazines is that they too often assumed that women only wanted articles about conspicuous consumption, celebrity gossip, and beauty tips. A predilection for publishing photo spreads presenting unrealistic body images didn't help either.

The basic criticism of traditional women's magazines is that they too often assumed that women only wanted articles about conspicuous consumption, celebrity gossip, and beauty tips. A predilection for publishing photo spreads presenting unrealistic body images didn't help either.

While plenty of the magazines remain thick with ads, some of them have suffered - such as Jane, which folded in July 2007.

But women are increasingly turning to Web properties, offering those disaffected by mainstream women's publications a new tone and a service that no print magazine can offer: a live community.

Wowowow.com is the latest launch, backed by founders Liz Smith, Lesley Stahl, Peggy Noonan, Mary Wells, and Joni Evans. The Web site features commentary from the five founders, as well as star friends Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Candice Bergen, and others.

"About a year and a half ago... I had been spending a lot of time looking for content I would enjoy reading, and found my friends were sort of doing the same thing," Joni Evans, former SVP at William Morris Agency and CEO of Wowowow.com, tells PRWeek. "We thought, 'This might be a fun venture to start a site for women such as us, who were older, accomplished, and still vibrant. We wanted to bring together 15 great friends who have known each other forever."

Evans adds that, at its basic level, the site aims to provide its readers the sense of a great celebration, allowing women to "weigh in, offer opinions, and do what women do when at a party."

Magazines still play an important part in women's lives, but the community aspect of Web sites is alluring to all female demographics, according to Suzanne Haber, Marina Maher Communication's MD of media connections.

"Although magazines in the hard-copy form will still be a trusted source for 'her,' the Internet is a woman's new best friend," Haber says, via e-mail. "She can have a conversation with both the online site as well as with other women who are part of the community."

Haber adds, "As for print-only magazines - it's a monologue - they don't allow for interaction... for women to get involved."

Wowowow.com has "conversations" and "question of the day" sections, while also enabling comments on readers' posts. While this site serves the boomer market, other Web sites, like Jezebel.com and Slate's XX Factor, have targeted a younger crowd.

Jezebel posts often have a high number of comments, and XX Factor's articles are often in a conversational tone - as responses to other pieces.

"I think there are similarities [between wowowow.com and XX Factor] - they seem much more casual [and] there's a conversation back and forth," says Anna Holmes, managing editor of Jezebel.com. "Women [are] interested in talking with each other, and for Web sites that go beyond [shopping site] Daily Candy and straight gossip [like] People.com, there's a market there."

She adds, "I'm surprised there weren't more Web sites like this for women two years ago."

Magazines, of course, have Web sites as well, and are adding the same sort of features. Glamour.com has blogs and polls, Cosmopolitan.com has message boards and a MySpace presence, and Self is using its Web site to get readers to serve as a form of guest editors for its next issue.

"Communities are important because women have always had a need and desire to interact and establish emotional bonds," adds Nancy Lowman LaBadie, EVP of MMC's consumer practice group, via e-mail. "Now, empowered by technology, women can get information and assert their opinions, and get brands and other women to listen."

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