NEW YORK—Major magazine publishers like Condé Nast and Time Inc. are forging ahead with e-media initiatives and online digital content distribution partnerships at a dizzying pace—even without the guarantee of ad dollars.

“Experiment, and follow where the readers are online,” Sarah Chubb, president of CondéNet, said this morning during a session at Magazine Publishers of America’s Magazines 24/7 conference. “Maybe there won’t be ad dollars, initially, but stick with it.”

“I’m bullish on distributing our content,” Chubb said. “We produced hundreds of videos last year and, through partnerships, are distributing that content all over the Internet. We want to get in front of people who are our type of readers who hopefully have never found us before.”

At CondéNet, traffic generated from Web portals was up 80 percent last year over 2006, she said.

Last week, Hearst announced partnerships with portal powerhouses YouTube and AOL. Other publishers are looking to do the same. “Let’s face it, traditional magazines are shifting to media communications companies,” said Meredith Interactive Media senior vice president Lauren Weiner. “Our focus is on leveraging our insights into product development and translating that into innovation for our advertisers,” she said.

To know what initiatives work, publishers need to monitor the most useful metrics. Earlier this year, the Fortune|Money Group launched an ambitious initiative to produce about 30 new videos each day. In January, those videos attracted 500,000 viewers and 7 million streams, said Vivek Shah, president of the Fortune|Money Group. This month, he said, the group projects that streams will double to about 15 million. “We’re tracking metrics like total usage and return frequency—we want more homepage entries. We want to own our users, not rent them from other sites.”

Meredith has experimented with accepting user comments and feedback and with utilizing mobile technology—with varying degrees of success. Said Weiner: “I’m a big proponent of mobile, but we’ve noticed that it’s just not working for our content.”

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