South Beach Diet Binges on Web Site Members

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The Internet is fattening the South Beach Diet franchise's bottom line.


Since the June launch of the site at www.southbeachdiet.com, more than 26 million visitors have checked out content and tools designed to help lose weight. More than 200,000 people have signed up at $5 per week for access to recipes, community, nutritionists and chats with diet founder and cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston. And 2 million consumers have registered for newsletters.


"These visitors largely have been driven through extensive online marketing," said Ben Wolin, CEO of Waterfront Media Inc., the New York firm handling the South Beach Diet's online efforts for Agatston and publisher Rodale.


The media plan includes banners on portals like AOL and Yahoo, news sites like CNN and nytimes.com and also on Beliefnet and About.com. E-mails, too, drive traffic to southbeachdiet.com.


Consumers typically are not charged for e-mail newsletters. Anyone can sign up for a free Daily Dish, a sampling of the best content from the franchise. Paying subscribers get a more personalized e-mail.


Indeed, more than 7 billion ad impressions generated so far from this dieting craze have created interest in the online extension to Agatston's best seller. The books outline a diet that relies on the right carbohydrates and fats. Its extension online carries the same flavor.


The South Beach Diet site has features like the Diet Buddy, Weight Tracker, Nutrition Tool and Meal Planner, My Journal and a shopping list generator. There are message boards and chats with nutritionists and, occasionally, with Agatston.


Waterfront Media licenses the content and creates the interactive tools.


Formerly Agora Media Inc., Waterfront recently received a $4 million cash infusion from Time Warner Investments, Rho Capital, Village Ventures and Star Ventures.


Founded in January 2002, Waterfront Media partners with brands to create and market official Web sites and allied online properties as another revenue stream. The partner gets a cut of subscription revenue generated.


Clients include Tyndale House Publishers for the "Left Behind" series and Dr. Andrew Weil's My Optimum Health Plan. It also has fitness guru Denise Austin and Jean Chatzky, a contributor to NBC-TV's "Today" show and Money magazine's financial expert.


More than 4.5 million people have signed on to receive these brands' newsletters. Another 300,000 of them pay for exclusive content on their official Web sites, two-thirds of them accounted for by the South Beach Diet.


"We're responsible for all the online marketing and public relations for the sites, in this case southbeachdiet.com," Wolin said. "This allows subscribers to be loyal to southbeachdiet.com as opposed to reaching a consumer site that hosts many different brands."


Eighty percent of the South Beach Diet's online customers are women, many of them ages 30-49.


The South Beach Diet's popularity equals that of the Atkins Diet, another low-carb regimen whose creator died last year. To date, 5 million copies of the South Beach Diet books have sold out of a print run of 7.4 million.


Atkins and the South Beach Diet are just two that use the Internet aggressively to recruit prospects to their side of the ring. Weight Watchers has its own Web site, as does Jenny Craig. EDiets.com also promotes its diets along with a range of others.


"The amount of online promotion and exposure of southbeachdiet.com has made a significant impact to book sales," Wolin said, without disclosing the actual numbers.


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