Salon Offers Free Access If You View Ads

By: Michael Liedtke, AP Business Writer

(AP) Fighting for survival, the online magazine Salon.com has introduced an unusual advertising program that waives subscription fees for readers willing to wade through an interactive commercial.

Salon Media Group Inc. is offering “Ultramercials” sponsored by Mercedes-Benz as an alternative to paying for premium access, which costs from $18.50 to $30 a year.

About 45,000 subscribers pay the fees to view 20% of the content on Salon’s Web site. The remaining 80% of Salon’s site remains free to all visitors.

Readers who clicked through all four sections of an ad for Mercedes’ E-Class sedan on Tuesday received a 12-hour pass to Salon’s subscription-based content.

Visitors can get additional 12-hour passes by sitting through more advertisements on different days.

It takes about 10 seconds to click through the ad.

The response to the new Mercedes promotion has exceeded expectations since its debut last week, said Cheryl Lucanegro, Salon’s senior vice president of sales. Salon is trying to sign up other sponsors besides Mercedes-Benz.

Salon’s new program is the latest marketing twist developed by cash-strapped Internet companies hoping to drum up more business in the depressed advertising market.

Having lost $79.7 million since its 1995 inception, Salon is particularly desperate.

The San Francisco-based company could run out of money at the end of November, according to documents filed last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Salon received a reprieve last month when one of its directors, Adobe Systems Inc. co-founder John Warnock, loaned Salon $200,000.

As a last resort, Salon is prepared to raise money by selling the rights to collect bills owed by its customers, according to SEC documents.

Salon would discount the face value of its account receivables 20% to 40% under an agreement with an unnamed bank, the SEC documents said.

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