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The Cutting Edge: Computing / Technology / Innovation : Interactive Media Publications Slug It Out

October 05, 1994|AMY HARMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The billions of dollars allegedly to be made in building the information superhighway remain but a gleam in the eyes of computer, telephone and cable television companies. But for one group of businesses--publishers, trade show operators and others involved in "marketing/communications"--the game has already begun.

On Monday, a slick weekly trade magazine called Interactive Age made its debut, and it will be joined next week by an equally well-financed competitor, Interactive Week.

On Tuesday, the Electronics Industries Assn. announced that it was canceling an interactive technology trade show scheduled for next year, having lost out to a competing show scheduled for the same weekend. Still on the calendar this month alone are Multimedia Expo, Hollywood 2000 and Defining the Electronic Consumer III.

Numerous newsletters are slugging it out too. And public relations firms are starting "interactive divisions" with an abandon that seems at times to outpace the pool of potential clients.

"We don't care whether the telephone companies are more successful than the cable companies who are more successful than the wireless companies," says Interactive Week publisher Jack Dolce. "It doesn't even matter to us at the moment that true interactivity is not taking place. What is of concern to us is that tons of money is being spent by all of them to position themselves, and to do that they have to market and they have to advertise."

But whether the emerging multimedia industry can continue to support the surfeit of marketing opportunities, panel discussions and reading material being dumped upon it is unclear. Many are already burned out on information about the Information Age.

"I'm like, 'No! Not another magazine!' " says Cecilia Ceccone of the Writers Guild of America's interactive division, upon being handed a free copy of Interactive Age earlier this week. Ceccone was one of about 100 attendees at "Interface VIII," an interactive media seminar held Tuesday at the Beverly Hilton.

Gene Herd, executive director of the Hollywood Radio & Television Society, the co-sponsor of the seminar, blamed the plethora of similar events for lower-than-expected attendance. "I'd think people would be falling out of the windows for something like this," Herd says. "But there are so many forums like this now."

That is apparently what the Electronic Industries Assn. decided when it announced Tuesday that it was canceling its planned interactive show, scheduled in Philadelphia on the same dates in May that the new Electronic Entertainment Expo was to take place in Los Angeles. Key exhibitors such as Sega of America had decided not to go east.

"It seemed like it was more tearing the industry apart than anything else," said EIA spokeswoman Cynthia Upson.

The new interactive magazines will be entering a market currently well-populated with newsletters--such as Digital Media, Interactive Content and the recently deceased Technology & Media--and with special sections of established publications such as Advertising Age and Variety.

Interactive Age Publisher Chuck Martin says there will be room for both trade publications with the easily confused names. A product of CMP Publications Inc., which publishes Communications Week, Home PC and a number of other trade papers, the magazine--initially a monthly--is aimed at businesses and has a base circulation of 75,000.

Given the already-tortured history of the two fledgling magazines, it is not surprising that Interactive Week's Dolce disagrees. He and three other former CMP executives now working for Interactive Enterprises--a start-up with backing from CMP's archrival, Ziff-Davis Publishing--are targets of a $5-million CMP lawsuit accusing them of breach of contract and misappropriation of confidential information.

"We believe in competition --fair competition. But we cannot let CMP and its people be taken advantage of," CMP President Michael Leeds wrote in a memo distributed to all CMP employees in August, explaining why the firm is suing its former employees, now housed in an office a few towns away from CMP's headquarters on Long Island, N.Y.

In the memo, Leeds says Dolce and the others were involved in developing the plans for CMP's interactive magazine.

Retorts Dolce: "Until we announced Interactive Week, Michael Leeds didn't have the vaguest idea of what the interactive market was. There should not be two newspapers in this market."

Dolce says his business plan calls for the publication to start making money in 1996. But that will depend in part on what happens to its backer, Ziff-Davis, which is currently up for sale. CMP's Martin will say only that the company plans to spend "what it takes" to successfully launch Interactive Age.

"It's a grudge war," says Louis Rosetto, publisher of Wired, the hot consumer-oriented digital 'zine.

"CMP vs. Ziff Davis. Is there room for two? I don't know, but I know I'll only read one."

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