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Ms. magazine presents a new face

Ms. magazine reinvents itself for the second time in its 27-year history with plans to offer its "provocative" content to women online.

Ms. magazine is reinventing itself for the second time in its 27-year history. For the first time, it plans to offer its "provocative" content to women online, a market to which Wall Street has been paying close attention of late.

After a three-issue hiatus, the magazine returned to newsstands this week and is planning to launch a Web site next month.

The move online by Ms. comes during an active time for women-oriented Web sites. iVillage, which went public earlier this month, soared on its first day, closing up more than 233 percent. The shares are currently trading around 99. The site's investors include America Online and NBC; the network is also promoting iVillage on the air.

The Microsoft Network recently said it would increase its focus on women, and Women.com in January teamed with media powerhouse Hearst for a joint venture in which Hearst rolled its HomeArts site into Women.com. Each party owns 50 percent of the new venture, and an IPO is in the works for the near future.

For its part, Ms. is looking to leverage its subscriber base of 150,000 readers and its 27-year reputation to give it a leg up over its Net rivals.

"Ms. by its very essence carries credibility and brings to the party a kind of an ambiance and a history that many other sites lack," said Fayne Erickson, publisher of Ms. "Love us or hate us, everybody knows what Ms. stands for."

One big difference between the print and online versions is that the site eventually will carry banner ads, while the magazine is known for being advertisement free, Erickson said.

Initially the site will host only public service announcements. Once it takes off, it plans to offer subscribers a 15 percent discount to advertise their businesses on the site.

Carrying ads will be an experiment for the Web site, Ferickson said, since the print edition is known for touting the editorial freedom it gained after going ad free in 1990.

"We're not looking to get a rate base or to be able to show Revlon or Limited Too or whomever that they can be seen by X number of hits," she said. "Our primary function will be to create this immediate community of women, not to provide fodder for some cosmetic company."

Erickson envisions the Web site as an outlet to spread the Ms. logo and reach a broad range of women who crave what she calls "don't go there" issues. The April/May issue, for example, includes stories on adultery, face lifts, and one woman's plight to be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. The Web site will include excerpts from most cover stories in an effort to drive eyeballs to the magazine.

It also will include women's news, an email notification service alerting subscribers about pertinent federal bills and events, interactive polls, and a revolving feminist quote. Existing magazine subscribers will have access to private chat rooms; nonsubscribers can access open forums. The Web site has no plans to charge for content.

When it comes to survival, every penny and eyeball counts. Msmagazine.com plans to experiment with e-commerce to generate additional revenue. It will offer feminist books and Ms. merchandise such as T-shirts and baseball caps.

For over 20 years, Ms. has been at the forefront of women's issues, but it hasn't been without its share of problems, including financial setbacks.

It ceased publication for eight months in 1989 because it was losing money. A year later, it came back without ads, cut publication from monthly to bimonthly, and raised subscription prices.

In 1997, it was bought by Jay MacDonald, publisher of Working Mother and Working Woman.

Last year, MacDonald sold Ms. to Liberty Media Women, which is backed by more than a dozen female investors including Gloria Steinem, one of the magazine's founders; Sandy Lerner, cofounder of Cisco Systems; and Abigail Disney, Walt Disney's grand-niece. Liberty Media is the magazine's seventh owner and only its second women-owned parent company.

Ms. declined to disclose how much money is being spent on the Web site.