Webzines gain popularity in the mainstream -- We look at ''Slate,'' ''Salon,'' ''Word,'' ''FEED,'' and ''Nerve: Literate Smut''

By Suna Chang
Updated February 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Webzines gain popularity in the mainstream

Ed McMahon isn’t pushing subscriptions for webzines yet, but that day may soon come: Original-content sites like Salon and Slate have been more than holding their own against the proliferation of websites set up by existing print titles and news outlets. ”These magazines are contributing to national scoops,” says Jim Balderston, an industry analyst at Zona Research. ”They are bringing forth stories that have not been told anywhere else, and adding to the journalistic mix.”

Some pioneers of the online-publishing game going stronger than ever:

Salon Magazine
Think: Tom Wolfe’s New Journalism with an even smarter mouth. Covering news events, media, and technology, Salon also offers features like the ”Drama Queen” contest, in which the reader with the most heinous experience wins a prize. Brief bits: Founded by former newspaper editor David Talbot in November 1995. Based in San Francisco. Made mainstream headlines last year when it scooped traditional news organizations by breaking the Henry Hyde adultery story (after which Salon‘s Washington bureau chief, Jonathan Broder, who publicly denounced the ‘zine’s decision to publish the piece, resigned). Boasts well-known writers (Garrison Keillor, Camille Paglia) and a number of online publishing awards.
How much it costs: Free.
Biz sense: Right on. Salon milks its reputation as a book lover’s site by releasing an anthology in May, hosting an annual book-awards ceremony, and recently inking a juicy two-year tie-in deal with barnesandnoble.com.
Future plans: To become the CNN of e-mags by continuing to break stories — a goal that’s cranking up the pressure to post fresh copy six days a week. ”The pressure is relentless,” says managing editor David Weir. ”We are headed for 7 days, 24 hours.” A

Think: A cocktail party with the combined staffs of The New York Observer, The New Republic, and Harper’s. Updated daily, Slate also delivers addictive espresso shots of the latest headlines via e-mail.
Brief bits: Backed by Microsoft and headed by former New Republic editor Michael Kinsley, Redmond, Wash.-based Slate was launchedin June 1996.
How much it costs: Charges $19.95 for a one-year membership but also offers some free content.
Biz sense: Smart. Via e-mail, Slate delivers news right to your virtual doorstep.
Future plans: A major redesign by the spring. And helmsman Kinsley ain’t going nowhere. ”I could have gone back and been the editor of The New Yorker, and I didn’t leap at it,” he says. ”It’s unlikely there’s anything else I am going to leap at.” A

Think: Your cool college roommate’s journal — with better writing. Updated daily with little nuggets (edgy horoscopes, cartoon strips), New York-based Word also features inventive weekly pieces on lifestyle-oriented subjects (comparing cars, going to art school). Says editor in chief Marisa Bowe, ”It’s for people who are in favor of unconventionality…you know, not right-wing Christians.”
Brief bits: Initially launched in 1995, Word folded in March 1998 but relaunched seven months later after Zapata, a Houston-based investment company that also owns fish-oil-processing and sausage-casing businesses, funded a resurrection.
How much it costs: Free.
Biz sense: Risky but admirable. Word says it has no plans yet to seek advertisers. ”We don’t have anyone selling [ads],” says Bowe. ”We don’t do anything except put out stuff that’s good.”
Future plans: Possible print anthology. Plus, Bowe wants to develop artsy multiuser games, something ”Fellini would do.” La Dolce PlayStation, anyone? B

Think: MTV News without the annoying VJs. Loosely divided into four major sections (Classic FEED, Media &amp Culture, Technology, and discussion forum The Loop), FEED is written for tech-savvy brainiacs who actually have a social life.
Brief bits: Pioneering title launched May 1995 with staff of two. FEED now employs 11 people and underwent a major redesign last year — resulting in a loud, busy layout a blind man could see.
How much it costs: Free.
Biz sense: Sharp. ”Considering we have spent no money on marketing, I think the brand is very solidly established,” says executive editor Stefanie Syman. Attracts major advertisers like J. Crew, IBM, and Amazon.com, but also lines the coffers via individual investors.
Future plans: Possible print spin-offs, either a book or a special-issue magazine. Round up more dough and beef up brand awareness. And rack up more big-time advertisers. ”The fact is that we reach a very dedicated audience who spend a lot of time on the site,” says Syman. ”I think advertisers are just beginning to appreciate that.” B

Nerve: Literate Smut
Think: Playboy‘s body with The New Yorker‘s brain. Updated every other day, Nerve‘s an upscale sex e-zine that you actually might read for the articles. Has posted work by Nancy Friday and ex-surgeon general Joycelyn Elders, as well as an interview with Norman Mailer.
Brief bits: Launched June 1997 in New York by former pub-industry workers Rufus Griscom and Genevieve Field.
How much it costs: Free.
Biz sense: M.B.A.-worthy. An anthology, Nerve: Literate Smut, released last year. Launched online boutique offering T-shirts, pajamas, and candles.
Future plans: In March, will offer a members-only area with services such as free e-mail, home-page construction, and discussions. The grand plan? To found a ”publishing empire,” says Field. Hef would be proud. B+