Expedia Profits Off Online, Print Symbiosis

Ziff-Davis Publishing, New York, and online travel site Expedia, Bellevue, WA, are teaming up to launch a bimonthly as-of-yet unnamed consumer-travel magazine that draws on the formidable resources of both partners to build and sustain it. The magazine – which will take advantage of Expedia’s brand name equity – will launch in late summer with an initial circulation of 200,000.

“There is a symbiosis between the online world and the print world,” said James J. Spanfeller, executive vice president and publishing director of Ziff-Davis Publishing. “We have people who are already on the Web and are clearly interested in travel, and Expedia will gain a huge benefit with newsstand brand presence.”

Circulation will be built on the model used for the successful launch of Yahoo! Internet Life, Ziff Davis’ consumer Internet magazine, whose circulation growth has reached double digits each year in just five short years of publication. “We’re hopeful [that] we’re going to be able to launch and grow this magazine in a similar way we did with Yahoo,” said Steve Sutton, senior circulation director at Ziff-Davis Publishing.

Yahoo! Internet Life’s continued ability to acquire a substantial number of subscribers online – as opposed to traditional offline subscription acquisition venues like direct mail and subscription agents such as Publishers Clearing House – is unusual in the magazine industry. Most magazines dabble in online circulation-building, but it remains a small percentage of total subscription acquisitions. The difference is YIL’s ability to take advantage of its powerful partnership with the Yahoo! Web portal to promote subscriptions on the heavily trafficked site.

“We all have a lot of confidence in the model that Yahoo! Internet Life created, and it was such a great success,” said Richard Bangs, editor at large for Expedia.com. “We have an even tighter community with Expedia than even Yahoo!” he said.

Visitors will be offered a free-trial issue of the new magazine through prominent ads and offers on the Expedia Web site. “Expedia is very committed to this magazine, and we intend to promote it conspicuously,” said Bangs.

Expedia also delivers e-mails to 3 million members of Faretracker, its weekly e-mail service that alerts members to low fares and discounts.

Ziff-Davis Publishing, which was sold in December to private equity firm Willis Stein & Partners in a $780 million transaction that’s expected to close next month, will stoke the effort with its own circulation marketing offline. Direct mail tests will tap into its 18 million database of computer-savvy consumers. “We’ll be looking to see what segments of our database work,” said Sutton.

Outside list rental will be another means to test. “We’ll test the mail to see what’s out there,” said Sutton, but he suspects online efforts, just as with Yahoo! Internet Life, will be a big source of acquiring subscribers. “The old tradition in the circulation business was to launch with big direct mail campaigns. We’ll do a big push, but we expect a significant number of [subscriptions] to come from online instead of traditional direct mail.”

Ziff-Davis publishes over a dozen different magazines, including a handful of consumer books, such as Family PC and PC Computing, which was renamed Smart Business effective May 2000; business trade publications like Smart Reseller and Interactive Week.

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