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On The Value Of Web Portals


Bill Mickey By
09/19/2006 -02:00 AM






In the October issue of Folio:, we’ll be running a story on magazine publishers developing destination sites that corral multiple titles under a new online brand. For the story, we take a peek at two sites, however there are plenty of examples out there, both b-to-b and consumer.

We’ve touched on this subject before. It’s easy to fault publishers for finally jumping on a bandwagon that made the rounds many years ago when ‘portal’ became yet another hyped concept. Yet it’s a strategy that’s both a leap of faith and one that I think makes a lot of sense—especially for publishers who’ve mined a niche for every possible opportunity.

It’s a strategic leap because you’re essentially taking two or more brands you’ve spent years, even decades, developing separately and subordinating them behind a new brand. As a destination, the new site inherently hogs the brand emphasis. There’s an opportunity for a great brand debate here—whether to continue to highlight niches of niches or bring them together under one, overarching brand.

But the potential of such sites seems significant. You’re not only consolidating content, you’re consolidating the audience—at once reaching critical mass in both scope and reach, elevating brands that were divided and endlessly niche-ified. Readers can still get their core needs met within each brand’s section of the portal but, importantly, can also graze in the areas where niches overlap. It’s a marriage of the broad and focused.

Content is broken out of brand silos and advertisers are given efficient and varied access to the entire span of the audience. Publishers can harness a greater exponent of their community in a shared arena.

Jeff Jarvis recently riffed on the popular what-if scenario that Time Inc. is next on Time Warner’s chopping block (they’re already selling most of Time4, a group of titles that are generally one or two in their markets). The thinking is that the Time Inc. magazines are a drag on performance and they got burned with their portal attempt called Pathfinder back in the day.

Though more recent efforts have been made with the destination concept: CNNMoney.com collects Fortune, Money, Business 2.0 and Fortune Small Business under one umbrella. And Time4, by the way, just days prior to the announcement that the bulk of the group would be sold, announced the launch of SkiNet, a destination site backed up by Ski, Skiing and Warren Miller Entertainment. All three are now for sale. Too little, too late, for Time Inc. perhaps.

And what’s to stop a non-magazine competitor from recognizing this same opportunity and developing a market-spanning site, stealing the thunder—and audience—from an established, and, increasingly, ‘traditional,’ media company? For Jarvis, this may have already happened for some:

The strength of these brands is that they had—note the tense—a headstart. They could have used their promotional clout and reputations to enable these communities to form around them. But they didn’t. Too late? Maybe.





Bill Mickey By -- Bill Mickey is editor of Folio:. Follow him on Twitter: @billmickey

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