The Mag Tag

Debra Judge Silber

When WHO you are is WHERE you are

Knowing the right name will get you in the door. An old concept, maybe, but with a new twist for the Internet, where a name signifies not only who you are, but where you can be found.

A reader out for a spin on the Web types in smartmoney.com, and up pops Smart Money’s online version. Type in time.com, and there’s Time online. But if she types in redbook.com, she’s at a medical text company; if he types in maxim.com, he’s at a pharmaceutical manufacturer in San Diego.

Coming too late to the Net–and not willing to pay the price–a number of publishers launching online have resorted to the “mag tag” in creating their online identity. By adding the suffix -mag (or occasionally, -online or -net) to their titles, publishers can sidestep the issue–and avoid paying the ransom–when their name is already someone else’s registered domain. The question is, does the mag-tag confuse readers who’ve put down the magazine to pick up the mouse?

It does for a few, at least. Employees at Maxim Pharmaceuticals of San Diego, California, are amused when e-mails intended for Dennis Publishing’s Maxim–wives canceling their husband’s subscriptions, for instance–show up among the site’s more sober correspondence from investors, patients and doctors interested in clinical trials of the company’s cancer treatments. While Dale Sander, the drug company’s chief financial officer, estimates only about three out of every 100 e-mails his company receives is intended for Dennis’ beer-and-babes bible, even these few make him wonder. “It seems a little unusual that someone can navigate through a whole site and still think it’s Maxim magazine,” he says.

It’s not that Maxim didn’t try to avoid this. But maxim.com was already taken when the magazine went trolling for a domain name in 1996–prior even to launching its print magazine–and instead scooped up maximmag.com, according to Dennis group creative director Keith Blanchard. A later overture to Maxim Pharmaceuticals, which had in the interim purchased the maxim.com domain from its previous owner, was rebuffed. “We made an initial inquiry, and they weren’t interested in selling the name,” says Blanchard. “We dropped it right there. We weren’t prepared to go to the mat for it.”

A wrestling match may well have ensued, for the drug company has no interest in giving up the name. “It’s really not a matter of price,” says Maxim Pharmaceuticals’ Sander. “The domain name is our name, and it’s very important that we use it.”

The truth is, out of the more than eight million domain names registered since 1993 by Network Solutions Inc., by far the largest Internet domain registrar, only 9,000 have been the subject of formal disputes. While the rate at which domain names are being zapped up is still accelerating–five million were added in 1999 alone–registrants have learned to be creative–and sometimes, to settle. “We like to say there’s a lot of room left in dot.com,” says NSI spokeswoman Cheryl Regan. And beginning this year, the option of increasing a domain name from 26 characters to 67 presents even more room for creativity: Conceivably, then, maximmag.com could be Maximsexsportsgeargadgetsclothesfitness.com

Who wins in the domain-name game is generally a matter of who gets there first. In many cases, magazines staked their claims early, before the rush and just ahead of the time when speculation in domain names became a cottage industry. Michael Dubester, president of Times Mirror Interzines from 1998 through 1999 and now president of Sporting News Online, says that most Times Mirror sites established themselves online early enough in the game that the URLs were available. “Somebody,” he says, “had the foresight way before my time to put up some sort of working site. And it wasn’t a landgrab back then.”

But when Times Mirror wanted snowboarding.com for its Transworld Snowboarding title in 1998, it found the URL was already registered by a snowboarding instructor. Negotiations for the site didn’t last long. “He wanted like hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Dubester recalls. “It was an absolute non-starter.”

Although Dubester presumes some publishers will pay top dollar for a name, in his view the big bucks should be used to produce a better product. “For all I know, there are people who will buy up a name because it’s an integral part of their strategy, but I’d rather spend the money on the site,” he says.

Thus, what might have been snowboarding.com is twsnow.com. “My point of view is to promote what you have. If we’re going to use our good offices and our marketing on twsnow.com, we’re going to get people coming to twsnow.com,” Dubester says. “If you’ve done your promotion right, people will find you.”

URLS: HOW INTUITIVE?

In most cases, readers are sophisticated enough online to find what they’re looking for, agrees Marion Maneker, editorial director of New York Magazine’s Web site, newyorkmag.com. “I don’t really think it’s a problem, because there are so many online versions that use the name, -mag at the end and then dot.com, which in some ways has almost become a standard. And people have become fairly used to the fact that URLs are not always intuitive.”

Maneker also points out that few visitors call up a site directly. More likely, they’ve entered through a portal or search engine linked to the site. “The Web is all about your links,” Maneker says. “The important thing is to be on the search engines and to be bookmarked. It doesn’t matter so much what your URL is. It becomes your own name, you establish it, and you drive it through the links that you have.”

Hearst, with mag-tag titles that include redbookmag.com, esquiremag.com and victoriamag.com, links many of its sites through the Women.com Network, in which it holds a major interest.

Although Maxim’s Blanchard recognizes the strength of portals, he says that the magazine’s online operation’s primary marketing thrust has been to its more than two million print readers. “We haven’t spent a lot in Web marketing or offline marketing of our site. We’ve got the magazine, and it has all these cold links to the site.” He reports that the site gets 960,000 unique visitors a month–fewer than what has been estimated for Playboy’s site, but more than that reported for Better Homes and Gardens.

But in the past year, Maxim’s online strategy has taken a pronounced turn away from its print property–as Blanchard explains, “We’ve kicked it out of the nest.” Building since July, when maximmag.com began offering daily content independent of its print counterpart, the Web site completed its transformation from stepson to big daddy with its re-launch as maximonline.com in February. “This definitely was a conscious effort on our part to distance the Web site from a print brand, to say, ‘This is an independent site brought to you by the same people who brought you Maxim magazine.”

The pharmaceutical industry, then, can rest easy: According to Blanchard at least, there’s no further desire to usurp maxim.com. “It’s easy to see: If “Maxim” is the brand, then maximonline is the online branch and Maxim magazine is the magazine branch.”

WHO–BUT NOT NECESSARILY WHERE

10 MAGAZINES THAT USE MAG.COM OR MAGAZINE.COM AND WHO HOLDS THE ROOT URL.

1. MAXIM.COM

Maxim Pharmaceuticals, a San Diego-based manufacturer of drugs, therapies and vaccines for cancer, infectious diseases and other disorders

* Maximmag.com (or) maximonhine.com–Maxim magazine Online–Sex, sports, gear gadgets, clothes and fitness for men.

2. REDBOOK.COM

Medical Economics, Inc. of Montvale, New York, publisher of healthcare information products including magazines, directories, references, newsletters, databases and new media. Products include Redbook, a source of pharmaceutical pricing information.

* Redbookmag.com–Hearst’s Redbook magazine online–health, sex, family, beauty and fashion for women.

3. VICTORIA.COM

Victoria’s Secret Stores Inc., purveyor of upscale and low-cut lingerie and clothing for women.

* Victoriamag.com–Victoria online; a Hearst title dedicated to food, fashions and decor of the mid-to-late 19th century.

4. GEORGE.COM

George Lithography, a 70-year-old printing business located in Brisbane, Calif.

* Georgemag.com–Online version of the Hachette-Filipacchi political magazine founded by the late JFK Jr.

5. LIFE.COM

Web site for Life.com, the Calabasas Hills, California-based maker of My Life software, a program that enables users to record their life’s story in words, pictures, sounds and video.

* Lifemag.com–Web site for the venerable Time Inc. title.

6. AUTOMOBILE.COM

Automotive domain in an e-commerce network being developed by Vancouver, Canada-based Communicate.com. Other sites include perfume.com, exercise.com and hockey.com

* Automobilemag.com–Web location of Primedia Inc.’s Automobile magazine, covering trends, consumer issues and travel from the driver’s seat.

7. ASSEMBLY.COM

DBM Technologies, a contract manufacturing and assembly firm building products from circuit boards to jewelry.

* Assemblymag.com–Cahners Business Information title covering the manufacturing industry.

8. HOMEBUSINESS.COM

A provider of Internet services and other tools for home-based or small businesses.

* Homebusinessmag.com–Web site of Home Business magazine, a publication servic-ing the home-based business market.

9. COIN.COM

Web site of Edward J. Waddell, Ltd., a Maryland firm specializing in the sale of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and early medieval coins.

* Coinmag.com–Web site of Coin Connoisseur magazine, a title for collectors of coins of all types.

10. FOLIO.COM

Registered to Folio Corporation, a Provo, Utah, software maker. Originally registered in 1993 and updated in June 1999.

* Foliomag.com–Online version of FOLIO:, featuring articles and resources for the magazine industry.

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