Hearst launches online service p. 29

By: William Webb THE ANNUAL PUBLISHERS' Clearinghouse Sweepstakes spotlights publishers' willingness to spend to find new venues for subscribers.
As the direct mail giant spreads the face of Ed McMahon across America this month, the Hearst Corporation has quietly launched an online service billed as a virtual newsstand for some 250 magazines.
The Multimedia Newsstand, which is available to any user accessing Internet's World Wide Web, also offers shopping for videos and CDs, as well as entertainment features, such as a daily comic strip from King Features Syndicate, a Hearst subsidiary.
The online service plays on Hearst's strength in distribution, according to Alfred Sikes, president of Hearst New Media & Technology.
"Internet is increasingly a place where people come to buy things, and we want to be there," Sikes said.
Like direct mail marketing, the online service offers subscribers a discount, especially on Hearst Publications. Ordering is also faster than filling out a printed form, the company claims, although users instead fill out a form on the computer screen.
To pay, new subscribers may use a credit card or be billed. And they may prefer to be billed at first, as company representatives admitted they are still looking for a standard encryption technology to prevent credit card fraud.
The present limitations of the service were revealed in the CD category, which presently offers only Hearst titles such as various compilations put out by Cosmopolitan.
Still, the user-interface works smoothly, with the icons and point-and-click buttons that have become standard. Users may preview some short magazine sections with photographs, such as the "Tech Update" of the current Popular Mechanics.
When questioned, Sikes said that the primary goal of the Multimedia Newsstand is "to stake a position in cyberspace," rather than gain magazine subscriptions.
Sikes said he had no idea how many people at present will choose to buy through their computer. Nevertheless, Hearst's investment is minimal ? estimated to be as low as $50,000 in out-of-pocket expenses ? for an investment in the future.


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