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AOL Time Warner pulls free Net magazines

People who need People for free will have to look elsewhere. The media giant, seeking to fortify its online unit, is set to start moving magazine Web sites to its AOL proprietary service.

AOL Time Warner will move the free Web sites for a number of magazines into its America Online proprietary service, signaling the media giant's attempt to fortify AOL with exclusive content.

Beginning Sunday, the popular magazines People and Entertainment Weekly will no longer offer content on their Web sites for free. Content will be accessible only to magazine subscribers and AOL members. Newsstand buyers are granted access to content on the publication's Web site, but only for the duration of the magazine edition they purchase.

In the month or so following the initial launches, other titles will make the same move, including Teen People, Sports Illustrated Kids, Real Simple, InStyle, Sunset, Southern Accents, Time for Kids, Costal Living, Cooking Light, Southern Living and Parenting.

"We are making the move from the content being available for free, and (instead are) making it so you have to have a relationship with us," said Peter Costiglio, a Time Inc. spokesman.

The move has been expected since AOL Time Warner executives unveiled the plans in December. The idea is to boost AOL with content from the parent company's vast media and entertainment properties, ideally attracting new subscribers while holding onto the existing base of 35 million members. AOL Time Warner has been trying to revive the fortunes of AOL, which has suffered a year of losses because of plummeting online advertising revenue and subscriber declines.

This isn't the first time that Time Warner has fiddled with the Web elements from its vast array of magazines. In the mid-1990s, the company consolidated the content from its main publications, such as Time, People, Sports Illustrated and Fortune, and created Pathfinder, a precursor to today's portals. The site became a money pit, drawing criticism from people inside and outside the company for its technical and financial girth.

Pathfinder was eventually shuttered in 1999, scrapped in favor of a multiple "hub" strategy, which attempted to create a series of Web verticals focusing on finance, sports, news and entertainment. That plan was also scrapped after AOL and Time Warner agreed to merge in 2000.

This also isn't the first time that People has made its way onto AOL. The magazine was offered exclusively on AOL during the late 1990s.