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Better Homes and Gadgets

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As content becomes more portable through the growth of widgets, traditional media companies face the question of whether amassing huge audiences to their sites is the only digital model to follow.

While a few publishers like Forbes Media and Hearst Magazines have dabbled in widgets—Web-based programs or content packages—traditional media have been relatively timid when it comes to this form of social media. Of 196 new digital initiatives announced by magazine companies in the first nine months of 2009, as tracked by Magazine Publishers of America, only four were widgets.

One such initiative comes from Meredith Corp. in the form of a recipe tool bearing its flagship Better Homes and Gardens brand. While magazine companies have tried to tap into the online food audience with online recipe destinations, Meredith expects users to stick its BHG Recipe Saver wherever they can easily access and share it, like their home page or Facebook page.

Unlike Meredith’s earlier widget efforts that have focused on driving traffic to its big magazine sites, the goal of Recipe Saver is to “extend our reach into social spaces and to build brand loyalty,” said Dan Hickey, the company’s vp, digital content. “It’s also to respond to consumers’ need for more personalized content.” He hopes to get to 1 million users in a year’s time.

Not all companies have figured out to make money at widgets, although Hearst said it has sold ads on Seventeen magazine’s widget through Clearspring, a company that builds, distributes and delivers ads in widgets; and Forbes and Condé Nast’s digital unit have sold ads on widgets.

Meredith, too, is looking at Recipe Saver as a moneymaker. It’s letting supermarkets and food manufacturers pay to include their own recipes into the widget’s recipe database and attach coupons for ingredients in recipes. In a feature befitting the times, users will be able to search for meals and recipes by coupon availability. (An iPhone version coming out in Q1 will let shoppers scan coupons from their phones right in the supermarket.)

Hickey aims to have at least 20 coupons available when the widget launches in
mid-December.

“Consumers are turning to coupons now, especially in this economy,” Hickey said.

Advertisers, for their part, get to integrate their products with related content. “For grocers and retailers, it’s really the holy grail. It’s what everybody’s been trying to achieve for a long time.”

Meredith plans to introduce versions of the Recipe Saver for other niche audiences based on their food interests, starting with parents in first-quarter ’09 and followed by versions for diabetics and other groups.