When online publishers go green

Online publishers are increasing their offerings of "green" content, hoping to attract more readers and advertising revenue.

Online publishers are strapping on their Birkenstocks.

Buoyed by the breakaway success of An Inconvenient Truth, the film documentary of Al Gore's environmental lecture, publishers like The Washington Post, National Geographic and others are increasing their offerings of "green" content, hoping to attract readers and advertising revenues from manufacturers and retailers who are suddenly walking the earth-friendly path.

On Saturday, for instance, Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive, the online arm of The Washington Post Co., introduced Sprig.com, a new Web site aimed at environmentally conscious women. The site is the first new property the company has built from scratch; it bought Slate.com and operates BudgetTravelOnline.com in partnership with Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine and Newsweek. Analysts said the initiative is well-enough timed and executed.

"If you looked at 10 new markets to go after right now, this would probably be close to the top, because the number of companies advertising green stuff will explode in the next couple of years," said Josh Bernoff, an online media analyst with Forrester Research, a consulting firm. "And having an established company behind it is a good way to kick something like this off."

Sprig features articles in five categories: food, fashion, beauty, home and lifestyle, with videos liberally mixed into each section. In the beauty section, a video features an eco-friendly manicure and pedicure, while in the food section, visitors can watch organic cooking demonstrations. The site will post about six new articles a day, written in a way one might characterize as Green Lite.

"We're targeting this to the 95 percent of people who want to be 5 percent green," said Jeanie Pyun, Sprig's editor in chief. "Not the 5 percent of people who want to be 95 percent green."

According to Mark Whitaker, the vice president and editor in chief of new ventures for The Post's online division, Sprig has already signed up more than 100,000 subscribers to its daily e-mail newsletter, which it marketed on other Post sites like BudgetTravelOnline.com, in addition to sites outside the company.

Whitaker said the initiative follows a mandate from The Post's chairman and chief executive, Donald E. Graham, to expand the digital division beyond its four Web sites, which last year generated more than $100 million in revenue (an increase of 28 percent from 2005). Sara Levinson, a former executive at Rodale, NFL Properties and MTV, pitched the idea to The Post last fall, Whitaker said.

"We thought the idea was very, very ripe," Whitaker said, "so it was important to us to get it out there as quickly as possible."

Selling ads, hedging risk
According to Goli Sheikholeslami, Sprig's vice president and general manager, ad rates should "be in line" with those on other Post Web sites. Finding interested advertisers, she said, has been less of a problem than it would have been had the company not started life as a Post property. The company's advertising sales staff is pitching Sprig to existing clients, many of whom are major brands.

One advertiser already lined up is the Clorox Company, which produces a range of consumer products including Hidden Valley Ranch salad dressings. Sumona Pramanik, associate marketing manager for Hidden Valley, said she chose Sprig to carry ads about her brand's new organic ranch dressing partly because Sprig is aimed at a mainstream audience.

"Their positioning as a stylish green site made them a perfect fit," Pramanik said. "And having that female target consumer, that's definitely a place where we play."

Analysts acknowledge some risk in investing big dollars in the green movement, given that in past decades, the interest in environmentalism eventually waned.

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