Magazines for women go interactive

March 28, 1995|By J. Greg Phelan | J. Greg Phelan,New York Times News Service

Publishers of women's magazines have been scrambling to find an on-line niche, although surveys show that only 20 percent of the 5.2 million subscribers to the top commercial on-line services are women.

Many of the magazines, including Elle and Women's Day, have chosen to team with large providers like America Online to draw women into cyberspace. But Self, which aims at educated women with high incomes, has decided to bypass the big services in favor of an experimental in-house approach to building an interactive presence.

Alexandra Penney, editor in chief of Self, which is published by Conde Nast, says she saw the potential of interactive technology soon after she joined the magazine in 1991.

"I realized that if we could form a community with these very intelligent women who could then talk to each other and talk to us . . .it would help us get a more loyal reader. And ultimately the advertising or business community could see that we were a very viable and exciting new vehicle."

Last year, Ms. Penney brought in Cassandra Markham Nelson, a multimedia editor at Apple Computer Inc. and a former manager of digital information distribution at Oracle Corp., to be the magazine's first interactive editor. Ms. Nelson decided on a practical approach to interactive services, focusing not on new technology but on readers' ability to respond to the magazine through any medium with which they felt comfortable.

"There are people who like to interact who are not technical, and they're going to write us letters," she said. "But later they might phone us, then fax us, and eventually they might get a computer and e-mail us. If you don't provide them with the steps, you can't expect them to make the jump to the new technology."

Soon after her arrival, Ms. Nelson upgraded the magazine's telephone system, establishing hot lines for fitness tips, survey responses and voice mail for the editors. She also set up an Internet address, self.com, for electronic mail. Starting with the July issue, the magazine was redesigned to reflect Ms. Nelson's new vision, and it now includes technology reviews, graphics resembling computer icons and feature articles about e-mail and the Internet.

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