By: Ellen Liburt

Magazine Now Distributed Through 83 Newspapers

by Ellen Liburt

‘We were originally gunning for the coffee table; we’re now shooting
for the computer table,’ Mike Veitch said with a laugh. As the
president and CEO of Access Media Inc. – the parent company of the
recently redesigned Access Internet Magazine and its companion Web
site, launching today – he has one foot in the print world and one
in cyberspace. And in this brave new dot-com world, Veitch thinks
that’s a good position to be in. ‘It’s the hybrids that are going
to survive and prosper,’ he said – and judging by his magazine, so
far, so good.

Although it is only 20 months old, Access Internet Magazine already
claims a circulation of 9.3 million and a readership it estimates at
13.3 million. It reaches more online users than all other consumer
Internet magazines combined. Distributed nationally through
partnerships with 83 metropolitan Sunday newspapers, the weekly is
the sixth-largest magazine in the country behind Parade, USA Weekend,
Reader’s Digest, TV Guide, and Modern Maturity. But with a circulation
expected to hit 10 million by October – Access is the one growing by
leaps and bauds.

The magazine aspires to be ‘America’s Guide to the Web’ by helping
consumers to understand and navigate the ever-morphing Internet and
the perilous straits of personal technology. It introduces computer
novices to the Web (gently) while wooing more experienced surfers
with engaging content and new ways to use the Internet. Every issue
provides up to 40 snappy Web site reviews organized by category
(Editor and Senior Vice President/Editorial Stephanie Chang said
her staff checks out more than six sites for each one they review)
and rated with up to four ‘A’ (for Access) icons. The ‘E-Life’
department examines how the Web affects daily life; ‘Ask Leo’ is a
Q-and-A computing advice column; and ‘Personal Technology’ offers
hardware and software tips, gadget info, and guidance on purchasing
computer equipment.

‘People lead busy lives, and they enjoy the Web, but they get
frustrated when a search engine they’re using spits out 50 sites
for them to choose from,’ said Chang, who was formerly editor in
chief of Connect-Time. ‘We do the hours and hours of searching for
our readers. We weed out the duds and point them only to sites we
think are worth their valuable time.’

When Access Media (which is privately held and based in Needham,
Mass.) compiled the magazine’s first 1,000 Web site reviews into a
‘Guide to the Web, Volume I,’ it advertised the book only online
and in the magazine. Still, Veitch recalled in amazement, 50% of the
readers who ordered it did so using snail mail. ‘Our audience is
representative of the mainstream,’ he said. ‘They’re sophisticated
enough to use the Web and order a book about it, but they ordered it
through the mail.’

Viewing this development through the lens of his many years in
newspaper publishing – prior to co-founding Access Media in 1998,
he was president of Community Newspaper Co., corporate parent of
more than 100 daily and nondaily newspapers in Massachusetts – Veitch
concluded that the technology that takes familiar forms is the most
likely to be adopted: ‘It’s a brand new magazine with a 200-year-old
relationship to the reader.’

Those readers, represented in the form of focus groups, helped shape
the redesign. For example, magazine staffers initially hoped their (supplement-size) publication would remain in the living room for a
week or so. They were surprised to find that readers – some of whom
had saved every issue – were using it at the computer and asking that
it be reduced to 81/2 by 11 inches and stitched so it could be
three-hole-punched and kept.

Maryjane Fahey & David O’Connor Editorial Design in New York hatched
the redesign, aided by Access Art Director Mark Gabrenya. Other joint
ventures involving Fahey (formerly executive vice president and
creative director for Roger Black Consulting) and O’Connor (a
photographer and former art director of Mademoiselle, Out, and
Art+Auction magazines) include the launches of a new magazine for
Yahoo! called E-shopper, and, with Michael Jones (another Black alum),
a fitness/lifestyle magazine from Men’s Health called MH-18 and aimed
at teens. The largest coup, however, will be revealed mid-September,
when Fahey, O’Connor, and Jones launch their redesign of The Boston

Their mission with Access, said Fahey, was to make it more coherent
and reader-friendly. ‘[H]ere was this magazine about the Internet,
yet there were absolutely no visual references to that,’ she observed.
‘Our challenge was to come up with those visual references which were
not cliched and didn’t hit the reader over the head, and we did that
consistently throughout the publication.’

They made navigating it easier by organizing pages by department and differentiating better between the front of the book and the feature
well. They added a table of contents to the front and an entertainment
department to draw a younger audience. They used more white space and
had more fun with the art.

The result is a streamlined, lucidly organized publication that makes
elegant use of design elements that reference the Internet – and gives
new hope to the Web-challenged masses.


Ellen Liburt (eliburt@editorandpublisher.com) is a reporter at
Editor & Publisher magazine.

(c) Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher

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