*CondeNet Steps Out in Style.com

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CondeNet Inc., the Internet arm of magazine owner Advance Publications, next month will introduce upscale retailer Neiman Marcus as one of its two exclusive retail partners on fashion site Style.com.


Launched last week, the site at www.style.com will initially host the online personas of Vogue and W Magazine, targeting offline and online readers of those titles to shop select Neiman Marcus apparel and accessories.


As part of a two-prong strategy, Style.com will in mid-2001 partner with another undisclosed retailer to offer products in support of editorial from the online versions of the mid-tier Mademoiselle, Jane and Glamour magazines.


"Style.com is a site that will have commerce as its core component," said Goli Sheikholeslami, managing director of Style.com, adding "we're trying to leverage our authority as fashion editors and commentators and combine that with the ability to transact."


The site marks Advance's first collaboration between its Conde Nast, CondeNet and Fairchild divisions. Advance in November bought Fairchild -- publisher of Jane, Women's Wear Daily, and W -- from Walt Disney Co., Burbank, CA.


Targeted to fashion-conscious women, Style.com will offer news and trends, runway shows, images, cartoons, weather, horoscopes, and forums for visitors to communicate with each other. The key ingredient is e-commerce.


"The major challenge is building a successful e-commerce site," Sheikholeslami said from Style.com's New York base.


Efforts are on to woo Style.com's target audience. A 250,000-piece direct mail campaign is underway to drive traffic to the site. Names were pulled from subscription lists of Vogue, W and Advance's Conde Nast Publications' database. E-mails and other unspecified online pushes are also expected.


Style.com's success hinges on how seamlessly content is combined with contextual commerce. It hasn't been easy for others with the same ambition, according to Alan Alper, senior analyst at Gomez Advisors, Lincoln, MA.


"It's proven to be very difficult for content sites to become e-commerce superstars," Alper said. "History is against them."


Take shegetsdressed.com. Launched by Women.com, it was killed on February 16 -- three months after its holiday 1999 debut. Fulfillment and customer services issues largely contributed to its demise.


In Style.com's case, CondeNet has made sure that its e-commerce partner bears the retailing responsibility. So, Neiman Marcus will handle fulfillment, shipping and customer service.


"[But] the shopping experience will happen on Style.com," Sheikholeslami said. "So, you'll be in the Style.com store, looking at merchandise chosen by our merchandising team at Style.com."


Style.com gets an unspecified cut on every item sold on the site.


The Web publisher hasn't waited for the co-branded Neiman Marcus store to take its first stab at e-commerce. A charity auction on the site offers one-of-a-kind sketches by Oscar de la Renta, Chanel, Manolo Blahnik, and Giorgio Armani. The highest bidder gets a dress made from that sketch's designer.


Style.com is part of the five-year-old CondeNet's gradual evolution to the content, commerce and community model so popular with other online media sites. Targeting women, CondeNet's Web-only sites include Epicurious.com, Concierge.com, Phys.com and Swoon.com.


Vogue.com, on the other hand, was CondeNet's most recent dabble in migrating Conde Nast's popular Vogue magazine online. Launched in September 1999, the U. S. site at www.vogue.com now links to Style.com. So does W's site at www.wmagazine.com.


"We think of it as three separate doors into one site," Sheikholeslami said.


The publisher won't neglect content in its desire to succeed in e-commerce. It is creating separate online content for each of its magazine brands, including Vogue, W, and Glamour.


"Our job here really is to take the spirit of those magazines and create online features for them," Sheikholeslami said. "Magazine content belongs to magazines and we create content specifically for the Web."


In its quest to push product along with content, Style.com's major challenge is to highlight the Chinese walls that exist between editorial and commerce.


Sheikholeslami said the lines between editorial and merchandising are very clear.


"The editorializing comes first, the sourcing happens second," she said. "So, the integrity of the editorial is of the utmost importance to us and we will not compromise that in any way. That function always precedes any kind of merchandising."
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