The online arm of Barnes & Noble Inc. yesterday announced it would buy a 32 percent stake in Enews.com Inc., a District-based online magazine clearinghouse, in a cash-and-stock deal worth $40 million.
Jonathan Bulkeley, chief executive of Barnesandnoble.com Inc., said the investment is one of the first in a series designed to make it the premier "content" seller on the Web.
"We're not just a bookstore. That is clear. But we're not following the other guys either into every product under the sun," he said, taking a hit at No. 1 retail site Amazon.com, which aims to be the Wal-Mart of the Internet as it has branched out from books to toys, hardware and sundry other items.
"Our strategy," Bulkeley said, "is to focus on content: information, news, entertainment."
As part of a four-year agreement, Barnesandnoble.com will be able to purchase an additional 8 percent of Enews.com. Hachette Filipacchi Magazines Inc., which owns magazines such as George and Premiere, has also invested an undisclosed amount for a minority stake in Enews.
Bulkeley said that as a result of the new deal, customers purchasing books and other products on Barnesandnoble.com, which is co-owned by the world's largest book retailer, Barnes & Noble, and Bertelsmann AG, will soon be invited to subscribe to magazines reflecting their interests and vice versa for Enews.com visitors.
For instance, Bulkeley said, people who buy a travel book to Asia might get a message asking, "How about Travel & Leisure?"
The companies will make a commission off sales on each other's sites.
Enews.com was founded in 1993 as a spinoff of the New Republic magazine. Its first online presence was a "gopher" site (the text-based predecessor of the World Wide Web), which featured selected articles from the popular publication.
Brian Hecht, a former managing editor of the Harvard Crimson and a TV and print journalist, took over the company's editorial operations in 1996 and relaunched the site the next year as an e-commerce offering. It is now the largest online seller going after the $9 billion magazine subscription industry.
Enews.com quickly became one of the few Internet companies to make money. Hecht, now 29, would not disclose how much the privately held company has taken in from sales except to say it was "in the millions."
In the past two years, Hecht, now chief executive, has scored a number of high-profile business partnerships that have propelled the site into the top 15 most popular as of November 1999, according to PC Data, a leading provider of technology market research.
Enews.com has partnerships with 35,000 sites, including popular portals Yahoo, Excite, Lycos and WebCrawler, to sell its selection of 600 magazines. In July, it became the exclusive online promoter of Tina Brown's much-hyped Talk magazine debut. Enews.com has also recently lured away high-level executives from major media players including U.S. News & World Report and Times Mirror Magazines, bringing its total employee count to about 100.
Hecht said selling magazines on the Internet is becoming increasingly important as traditional methods such as sweepstakes have come under fire.
"We have a new way to sell magazines. . . . We can give people magazine news, make recommendations," Hecht said.
Of off-line magazine marketers, he said, "Those folks are in big trouble."
IN PROFILE; Enews.com
Business: Offers subscriptions to hundreds of magazines that can be ordered over the Web. Guarantees the lowest prices on the Internet.
Established: Began displaying sample articles on its Web site in 1993. Began selling sub-scriptions over the site in 1997.
President and chief executive: Brian Hecht
Employees: About 100
Web address: www.enews.com
SOURCE: The company