NEWS ANALYSIS: Generic women’s websites set to be as passe as pashminas - Internet publishers need to target distinct categories of women

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.

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

together’ environment.



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

interests.



His strategy is to acquire commercial partners and build sub-sections

around brands.



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

here.



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

offering.



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.’