In Styles

Is it okay for the Times to gild the lily like this? Steve Brill, editor of Brill's Content, said, "I love the Four Seasons and I think Alex wrote a lively, interesting piece." But, he said, the piece had a "kind of puffiness that is not the New York Times's standard." Brill said that a newspaper should apply the same reporting standards in all sections. Columbia Journalism School dean Tom Goldstein disagreed, saying the Styles section is "different from the rest of the paper" and that readers should not bring the same expectations to it.

Carol Felsenthal, a biographer of S.I. Newhouse, was less diplomatic. "Alex is an energetic and frisky kind of reporter," she said, "but at the Times in general, there's just not a person who writes critically about the magazine business or the book business. I think the tabloids do a far better job on a daily basis."

And as for Kuczynski? Maybe she's just gotten bored writing about the dream fac- tory, and wants to start working for it.

Nerve Backing

In the wake of Salon's respectable, if not spectacular, IPO last week, a handful of investors are talking about possible synergies between Nerve and Salon.

Like Salon, is a content-based e-zine aimed at the "cyber-literati." But Nerve is devoted to smut, offering not just original artistic content such as fiction and a photo gallery, but also a page of sex-related links that can take you in nanoseconds from nude shots of Laetitia Casta to gossip about the Marquis de Sade. Nerve is sexy, but not hardcore, and that is precisely what has attracted both viewers and Wall Street investors, who boast that it passes the "wife test." She likes it!

Like Salon, Nerve is free, although the latter's owners claim to have lost "less than a few hundred thousand" dollars last year, before breaking even in December. Nerve raised $1.5 million this spring in a round of financing and is gearing up to raise $10 million more. Nerve claims more than 14 million page views per month. This spring, around the time Salon bought the online community the Well, Nerve bought Bianca, a sexually permissive chat room that has added an- other 50 million­plus viewers, bringing Nerve's total viewers to 70 million, about five times those claimed by Salon.

One of Nerve's new investors, David Chazen, managing director of Chazen Capital Partners, is also a stockholder in Salon, which he called the "gold standard of online magazines." Other investors include Mit-chell Kapor, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Louis Rossetto, a co-founder of Wired, and Steven Johnson, a co-founder of Feed.

This summer "is a totally extraordinary period," says Nerve co-founder and CEO Rufus Griscom. The German version of the site is up and running, managed by Bertelsmann-owned Stern magazine. In mid May, Nerve signed the agency 24/7 Media Europe to sell ad space across the continent. Spanish and French sites are being launched this summer, with a Japanese site to follow in the fall. The company just moved into a Soho loft space, hired executive editor Susan Dominus, and is gearing up to launch an online "NerveCenter" in July and a print magazine later on. Thanks to a combined revenue stream from foreign licensing, advertising, and paid personals, the company expects to bring in more than $1 million by year's end.

Nerve's chief financial officer Louis Kanganis says talk of an IPO is premature, but "we are absolutely not ruling it out. We have a strong brand in Germany, and there is a possibility we could list over there, where there is less resistance to our content." Griscom says an IPO is "definitely one of the exit strategies," although they would consider selling the company to a media conglomerate or another portal.

Patrick Keane, a senior analyst at Jupiter Communications, says of Nerve, "Their biggest problem is they have absolutely zero brand. Even for an upscale, slightly pornographic content consumer, they're fighting a lot of noise. They need to spend a lot of money" to market the brand.

Which they plan to do. Chazen calls Nerve a "real sleeper" that will attract not only high traffic and ad sales, but maybe even a little Nerve-Salon synergy. "Pre-IPO," he says, "Salon wouldn't go into this kind of content. But at Salon, they like Nerve a lot. They like Rufus. They'd make a nice fit."

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