Gestalt: Reflections of a Digital Pioneer

Sarah Chubb is president of CondéNet, the creator and developer of such online destinations as Epicurious, Concierge, and Style. Chubb oversees the company's Internet brands, and spearheaded its involvement as a founding member of the Online Publishers Association (OPA) in June 2001. Christopher M. Schroeder spoke with her recently about the company's aggressive digital push.

>>Condé Nast appears to be making a bigger push on Web content than ever. Was there a certain inflection point for the company?

Sarah Chubb: There was no single inflection point, but numerous ones [with] enormous cumulative effect...We are a private company, so we are long-term thinkers and planners. We have seen excellent success both in our Web revenues and margins and in our ability to drive subscriptions to print, and as a result have been on a steady investment track.

>>Since so much Web traffic starts with folks finding what they need on the first page or two of search results, do you think branding is less important than it once was?

SC: I think branding is more important than it has ever been. If I'm a fashion fan, I can find photographs of the trends or of the collections in many places, but only on can I find all the photos of all the clothes, the designers, the front row, the celebs, etc., with a point of view that comes from the top editors in the business. I can find other people there who share my passion.

>>By the way, it's still easier for me to find a CondéNet article from Google than your own search.

SC: Sorry about that! We realize that consumers now expect to be able to find just about anything online whenever they want it, so look to see that change over time.

>>You mentioned in a New York Times story this spring that not using the names of the magazines on the Web enables Condé Nast to cast a wider net. How so?

SC: We have created new brands, like, which is a brand in its own right, with a large audience of food lovers, some 3.5 million. We have been able to concentrate on a great Web experience without having to check every idea against the brand promise of the partner magazines, which has, I think, given us the best of both worlds.

>>How are you doing with younger audiences, and how do you hope to attract them?

SC: We're finding that our Web consumers are about eight years younger, on average, than the subscribers. We want to do more to talk to the younger generations. We are working on a site for teen girls to launch later this year.

>>Is MySpace a fixture or a fad? And what does "community" mean to CondéNet?

SC: MySpace addresses a basic human need to connect and communicate, so I think what it has ignited in terms of user excitement will endure, whether or not it remains the biggest player in the category. Put very crudely, sex is certainly not a fad...Our view of community is grounded in our connection with our customer. We see a huge value in helping people connect with others who share their same interests, which is basically the MySpace mission as well, isn't it? We just happen to focus on different interests.

>>You were truly one of the pioneers in quality online media and marketing; we shared the post-boom days, when no one took us seriously.

SC: It's hard for me to even process how much has happened in the online world since I first entered it 10 years ago. But the basic premise we believed in so fervently at CondéNet back then  that the processing power of computers and software, added to the connectedness of the Internet, would create a huge opportunity to make our customers very happy  has indeed borne out.

>>What has the shift to the Web meant for your organization as a traditional organization? How challenging has it been to shift mindsets?

SC: Condé Nast is in a fantastic position, maybe better than it has ever been. We have the top magazines in the country, and we have over 11 years of Web learning under our belts. This means we can offer advertisers marketing programs that leverage excellent reader relationships across both media. Bringing two different types of media together is challenging, but we have done it over a period of years, and have benefited from a series of huge "aha!" moments.

Christopher M. Schroeder is CEO and president of The Health Central Network, a ChoiceMedia company. (,

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