Last week The National Magazine Company announced yet another
entrant into the women’s internet market, uk.women.com. The market
already comprises half-a-dozen players that offer very similar generic
fare aimed at a broad cross-section of women.
All carry the same diet of lifestyle topics that can be found in any
mid-market women’s glossy. Interactivity is confined to discussion
groups and limited home shopping offerings.
The sites are owned largely by publishers and many new-media
commentators question whether they are making the best use of the
medium. Some view the very idea of a women’s portal as patronising since
it assumes women need to have their hands held in an ’all girls
Highlighting the web’s strength of being able to offer access to rapidly
changing information, critics suggest monthly magazine staples such as
fashion and homes are ill-suited to the net.
The sites claim big audiences but the anecdotal evidence is that
visitors don’t stay long and return infrequently. Media planners wonder
which client wants to target a disparate audience of 18- to 60-year-olds
in mixed demographic and interest groups.
New PHD online manager Shan Henderson believes site owners are hedging
their bets. ’Nobody wants to risk alienating people,’ he says.
But he is convinced that once publishers know who is using their sites,
they will refine their efforts. ’They will break down into sites for
teens, Bridget Jones-style thirtysomethings and other demographic
groups,’ says Henderson.
Until this happens, advertisers will continue to reach women through
home shopping sites such as Tesco and Jungle.
If they are to win loyal audiences and gain advertisers, the women’s
sites need to up their game - something NatMags will want to consider as
it develops uk.women.
The first of the generic portals, Handbag.com, claims more than 200,000
different users a month. Managing director Dominic Riley agrees that as
the market matures and new entrants arrive, it will fragment across
His strategy is to acquire commercial partners and build sub-sections
I-Circle claims a million visitors through Freeserve since its launch in
October. Managing director John Grisby points to the US - where two
sites dominate the women’s market - and predicts similar rationalisation
Indeed, one player is already set to leave the stage. CharlotteStreet is
likely to close in the next few weeks and be replaced by a more targeted
Managing director Kevin Beattie was appointed in March to review
Associated New Media’s digital business, including Charlotte Street. His
publishing background inclines him to believe that the online market
will soon be as segmented as print.
’Seventy-five per cent of buying decisions are made by women and, if we
get it right, it could be very lucrative,’ says Beattie. ’Generic sites
aren’t the way to go but we won’t be vacating the market.’