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Reader's Digest turns a page

Reader's Digest launches an online magazine, a Web search directory, and new sites on home maintenance and online shopping.

Reader's Digest today announced an online magazine, a Web search directory, and two new sites on home maintenance and online shopping.

As previously reported by CNET, the company's Web site, called Reader's Digest World, is its first foray into Net publishing and will launch October 28. But it faces stiff competition from a plethora of online magazines and, in the directory market, from the likes of Yahoo, Lycos, and America Online's Webcrawler.

The decision by Reader's Digest to go online is significant both for the company and for the electronic publishing industry, according to Sarah Hammann, director of new business development for Reader's Digest. The magazine is a publishing giant; its total revenues topped $3.1 billion in fiscal 1996.

"LookSmart and Reader's Digest World extend our global leadership in print publishing to online publishing, consistent with our strategy to add rapidly new customers, create new products, and expand into new channels of distribution," James P. Schadt, Reader's Digest chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

For Reader's Digest, whose popularity has been largely among older readers, the venture represents a strategy for the future, one aimed at bringing in new and younger subscribers. For the Web, the move is an apparent recognition by the most widely circulated magazine--with more than 100 million readers--that Web publishing has undeniably come of age.

The new Web site will include:
--Reader's Digest Interactive, an online magazine with articles and popular departments from the print edition. Content will be updated several times each month.
--Reader's Digest At Home, which offers consumers practical advice on home improvement, cooking, gardening, fitness, and health. It will rely on articles from the company's special interest magazines, such as American Health, the Family Handyman and New Choices.
--A service that will let consumers shop for music, video, magazine, and book titles available from Reader's Digest.

In addition, the company launched a search directory dubbed LookSmart, a navigation service for the Web. The company is setting up a new subsidiary to handle the launch. It will be run by Evan Thornley, a former executive at management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

The focus will be on a simple, easy-to-use interface akin to what Yahoo already offers. It promises to search 85,000 Web sites. The search directory will rely on advertising to generate revenue and use the latest technology, including Java.