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Women's sites striking deals

Women's sites iVillage and Women.com ink e-commerce and content deals, illustrating the growth of the women's market online.

A year ago, Net observers were worried about gender equity online. These days, not only is it clear that women are online and here to stay, but companies are daily cutting deals trying to reach what is quickly becoming one of the most important vertical markets on the Net.

Today, for instance, two of the Net's top sites providing content for the women's market announced they have cut deals in an effort to strengthen their sites.

In one of the deals, iVillage struck an exclusive alliance with online bookseller Amazon, in which Amazon will sell books throughout the iVillage site.

In a separate deal, iVillage competitor Women.com acquired StorkSite, which is geared toward the needs of expectant mothers.

Analysts have noted that women are a desirable market for advertisers because they often make the important financial decisions in households, such as what kind of cars to buy, where to live, and how to deal with family finances.

Women seem to be attracted to sites on the Net that deal with issues specifically tailored to them, said Yvette DeBow, an analyst and vice president at Jupiter Communications.

"In the same way women's magazines are popular offline, women gravitate to them online as well," she said.

Women's sites are becoming increasingly interactive, she said, tailoring information about such subjects as finance and investment specifically to the female market. "Women will gravitate to sites that address certain central areas that they're dealing with and deal with them in a unique way."

The iVillage-Amazon deal cuts one way in that iVillage will only be able to sell Amazon's books. But it does not limit the partnerships that Amazon can make with other sites.

IVillage is one of a handful of sites trying to become the place where women go on the Net for information that ranges from child rearing to relationship and career advice.

Women.com is competing with iVillage, along with Heart's women's magazine site, HomeArts, DeBow said. Though it's too early in the game to pick a definitive winner, DeBow said, Women.com clearly has a head start as the first full-scale Web site aimed at serving the female market.

Women.com has been online since 1992 as a bulletin board service; it launched on the Web in 1995. Although it had the market to itself for several precious months, in the last year sites increasingly have launched to compete with it.

StorkSite, aimed at bringing pregnant women to the site and keeping them there throughout their pregnancy, includes a customizable due-date ticker, email, buddy lists, message boards, and pregnancy chat rooms. It also includes features such as BabyGrams: messages that are delivered to an expectant mother throughout her pregnancy about her baby's growth and development.

Women's sites in general are becoming more visible Net properties. BabyCenter, for example, won a Webby award last month in the Home category, and was voted by Business Week as one of five Web sites to watch in 1998 in any category.

DeBow said StorkSite will help Women.com round out its offerings and become more family friendly.