At first glance, the Web sites elasticwaist.com, productfiend.com and dailybedpost.com look like garden-variety blogs created by average civilians. There’s little clutter, no ads, links to other sites with similar post-feminist themes (dieting, skin care and sex, respectively) and sporadically updated content.
But upon closer inspection, there’s something suspiciously … slick about the layout of all three, isn’t there? Aha! Down the left-hand side of each loom the logos of Glamour, Allure and Self, rendered in varying shades of pink. And then in size 7.5 Veranda font, tucked away at the bottom of the page, is the telltale line: “Copyright © 2007 Condé Nast Publications. All rights reserved.”
As magazine publishers continue to try and refine their confused, semi-committed approach to the Internet, these little-known sites—in-house name: “The Network”—are a company trial of sorts, a slick repackaging of “girl”-illa blogs edited by Susan Kaplow, previously a director of development at the teen-marketing site alloy.com. Though they all link with mysterious persistence to Condé Nast products and advertisers, Ms. Kaplow refused to call them “Webvertorial.” “They’re separate from the magazines,” she said. “These sites give us the opportunity to create a lot of content and really develop a conversational exchange.”
But is anyone talking? Traffic to the sites seems modest. It would’ve taken 335,000 unique visitors per site for elasticwaist (founded in March 2007) or dailybedpost (which went live in September 2007) to get officially tracked by Nielsen Online, which provides Web statistics, in June 2008; this didn’t happen. On a July 24 post, one blogger with the name Erin Flaherty asked in a poll: Do you ever use makeup remover? As of July 29, 32 people had voted. (In case you want to know, 14 said, “Nope. My cleanser works just fine, thanks.”)
Ms. Kaplow declined to give her own sense of the readership numbers—“We’re not going to get into that,” she said, “we just want the traffic to grow and the usership to grow”—so Off the Record reached out to a variety of bloggers, all of whom were listed on at least one of the three sites’ blogrolls, to get an anecdotal sense of who might be stopping by for a little kvetching and product information.
“Haha I have never heard of them, i’m sorry!” wrote Anna Holmes, editor of Jezebel, in an e-mail.
“I’m not familiar with that site (and didn’t actually know we were on their blogroll, which is always very appreciated), but I will certainly check it out!” wrote Jessica Morgan, the author of Go Fug Yourself, of elasticwaist.
“Quite honestly, I don’t read those sites,” wrote Faran Krentcil, a blogger for Fashionista.
According to one Condé Nast executive, the company is not investing all that much in “The Network.” “They’re not getting a lot of resources,” said this person, “because they are little experiments.”
The authors of all “The Network” blogs are freelancers, according to a Condé Nast spokeswoman, and they keep a low profile. Off the Record managed to locate one former contract worker for productfiend, Saryn Chorney, who called her salary “supplemental.”
“I wasn’t living off of it,” she said.
Last year, Ms. Chorney put together several videos for the site, one of which—a tour of a beauty store in Soho—debuted as recently as July 23.
Asked to address the mission of the site, she responded not in the rah-rah rebel-sister spirit of cyberspace but like a good little company soldier. “The voice on productfiend is witty, it’s not a lot of the blogs like Jezebel or perezhilton,” Ms Chorney said. “Those sites are almost like overly attitudinal. Productfiend is cute. It’s funny—sometimes. It’s about being serious about perfect skin and they do take it seriously. It’s educational.”