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College site strikes portal deals

University Wire signs distribution deals with Yahoo and Excite, further signaling the growing power of the college-age market.

College students may not have tons of disposable income--at least not yet. But they are quickly emerging as one of the hottest growing markets on the Net.

Just today, University Wire, a daily, student-written electronic news service covering the nation's college campuses, announced that it has signed distribution deals with the two leading portal sites, Yahoo and Excite.

Last month, Student.com also announced a distribution deal with Excite. While University Wire is strictly a news service catering to the college-age market, Student.com is a comprehensive site aimed at the same age bracket with features such as editorial content, news, and campus information.

Both deals underscore how promising the young adult, college-oriented market is on the Net.

Other sites--such as online communities GeoCities, The Globe, and Tripod--have either caught onto the trend or have capitalized on it once it naturally occurred.

College students--and others who fall into the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket--have always been targeted by marketers, noted Forrester Research analyst Kate Delhagen.

"Traditionally the 18- to 24-year-old audience is hugely attractive to marketers," she said. Young adults spend a disproportionate amount of their disposable income on entertainment goods such as beer, CDs, and concerts. But they also are seen as the future, and companies like to attract them when they are in college in hopes of retaining them as customers as they grow older.

"It's a critical time to put their hooks into kids," Delhagen said.

And the online venue--where marketers and companies can directly interact with teens and young adults--is an ideal place to do that, especially since today's young adults are also the most wired generation yet.

"Today's college students are the first generation that have grown up with a lot of technology--things like Nintendo, pagers, ATMs," Delhagen said. "From their toddling years they were playing with gadgets and computing devises."

When they go to college, she said, "They are completely Internet immersed from day one."

Leading Web sites already have naturally gained at least a portion of that market, just because there are so many students, she added.

But it's natural for companies such as Yahoo, Excite, and America Online to try to cater specifically to their needs.

For instance, last year America Online and Time Warner cut a deal to create Teen People, a new magazine aimed at teens that would launch exclusively on AOL.

Other sites, such as that of clothing retailer the Gap, have launched sites with interactivity, which appeals to young adults and teenagers.

But, Delhagen added, the market is too large to think of as a niche. Sites will have to specialize even further within that age group to appeal more specifically to the demographic.

University Wire, founded by students at Northwestern University in 1995, links the nation's campus newspapers via one electronic news system. It has 300 student written and edited papers in 50 states contributing to the daily news feed.