A Women's Magazine, via Yahoo
On many levels it makes sense that the next big attempt at creating what's essentially the next big women's magazine would come courtesy of Yahoo! (YHOO)
Despite a very noisy backdrop—Microsoft's (MSFT) unsolicited bid for the portal and Yahoo's efforts to find alternative deal partners—the media side of the company is quietly readying its largest new content initiative in years. Shine, launching later in March, targets women from the ages of 25 to 54 and focuses on fashion and beauty, entertainment, health, home, food, astrology, parenting, relationships, and work and money. "Your usual suspects for a women's magazine." says Brandon Holley, the site's editor-in-chief.
She's right, in that Shine sounds much like an updated, younger-sister version of magazines like Good Housekeeping and Woman's Day, which still bear the slightly insulting "women's service" moniker—and which, despite serious reader and ad erosion, remain tent poles for entire companies. But there isn't much appetite among magazine companies for spending the tens of millions it would take to get a mass-market-size print monthly off the ground. Hence: Yahoo, which even during tough times has plenty of coin (its free cash flow last year topped $1.3 billion) and has no manufacturing or distribution costs and a slimmer infrastructure. Holley's editorial staffers number around 12, or about a quarter the size of her staffs at now-defunct magazines Jane and Elle Girl. (And which were tiny next to those of warhorses like Good Housekeeping.)
Shine is discussing major partnerships with big publishing players, including magazine giant Time Inc. (TWX), and some deals will involve original content. And the site will be sprinkled with interactive pixie dust: Users can create blogs, and eventually they will be able to share items of interest by clipping and displaying them on profile pages. (I can no longer resist: iVillage, meet Y!village.)
In a sign of how encompassing Shine will be, Yahoo's recently launched food site will eventually appear under its rubric. "We don't want to be doing lots of small things," says Scott Moore, a Yahoo senior vice-president and head of media. "We want to do a few really large things that appeal to tens of millions." Moore says Shine is akin to USA Today's Life section and thus continues Yahoo's resonance with the sections of the nation's largest daily: Sports, News, and Finance.
For an Old Media guy like me, it's nice that Shine easily lends itself to print-media metaphors. But this is also why the digerati scorn Yahoo. Yahoo still aims to be a Web destination when distributing content across multitudes of sites are much more au courant. Despite nods to that reality—not for nothing is Yahoo investing heavily in networks that place ads elsewhere on the Web—something deep in the company's DNA remains (forgive me) media-centric. And Old Media-centric at that. (These tendencies predated and outlasted ex-Warner Bros. (TWX) Co-Chairman Terry Semel's reign as Yahoo CEO.)
THE STATS THAT MATTER
That said, getting love from the digerati ain't always all it's cracked up to be. Yahoo remains the most trafficked site in the U.S. Its News, Sports, and Finance sites reliably top their categories. Perhaps most impressive, in January traffic growth for all three, and Yahoo overall, outpaced overall U.S. traffic growth—no mean feat when you measure traffic in the tens of millions.
But let me digress. In the fall of 2006, I twice heard then-Yahoo COO Dan Rosensweig neatly encapsulate Yahoo's pitch: There are a billion people online, and half of them come to Yahoo every month. Made a lot of sense to me at the time. But within weeks, Rosensweig was out, and ad weakness crushed the stock.
Traffic has never been Yahoo's problem. Making money from it? Whole 'nother story. Shine could succeed smashingly as a site, and Yahoo could still face the problem shared by many top-tier sites ranging from The New York Times to CNET to, well, Yahoo. Massive traffic and category dominance do not translate perfectly into piles of dough—or, I should say, sufficient dough to satisfy Wall Street.
This is one reason why all of those players, despite serving vastly differing market niches with vastly differing degrees of gracefulness, now face proxy wars or takeover bids.
For Jon Fine's blog on media and advertising, go to www.businessweek.com/innovate/FineOnMedia