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The Internet: Why and How?

Lead Line — December 2000
Lead Line — December 2000
By Richard Thiel

The Internet: Why and How?
What kind of site will best serve your needs?
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Jimmy Durante used to complain that when it comes to show business, "Everyone wants to get into the act." The same seems to be true today about the Internet. Everyone wants to be there, but like a lot of aspiring performers, not everyone is sure why. That's certainly true in the marine industry, where a flashy Web site is now often considered as important as, if not more important than, a good product. A few marine companies and publications appear to be actually making money off the Web, but many seem to be there mostly because they feel they can't afford not to be. How much of this is solid business acumen and how much is herd mentality remains to be seen.

At PMY, we're trying to avoid the herd mentality while recognizing the benefits to our readers and ourselves from a Web presence. But we're proceeding slowly, trying to determine just how important it is to today's boater. To help us do that, we recently conducted a survey of our readers' computer and Internet habits, which yielded some surprising results. Not surprising given your affluence and business savvy is the fact that more than 70 percent of you own a computer and nearly 40 percent own three or more. Some 93 percent of you report having Internet access, with the majority using it to send and receive e-mail.

So clearly PMY readers are computer-active. But when we asked respondents to name the top 10 marine Web sites they visit most frequently, the highest-ranking site was named by only 14 percent of readers, and the number-two site was named by only six percent. Both of these sites, incidentally, sell marine gear and services. The boatbuilder site that ranked highest was visited by only about three percent of PMY readers.

We take these results to mean that PMY readers are active on the Internet but are not surfers. That is, you use the Internet as you do catalogues: to purchase specific pieces of gear. You do not appear to wander about in cyberspace not sure of what you might stumble across. This is hardly surprising given your busy schedules.

Studies like this are important in helping us determine two things about you. First is where the Internet fits into your boating life. Do you find it a practical tool for buying gear, planning a cruise, comparing insurance rates, or buying a boat? What does the Internet do well for you, and what does it fail to do well? Second, based on that information, what kind of Web site could we build that will best serve your needs, and how should that site relate to the magazine?

We've drawn some preliminary answers to these questions. It appears that you use the Internet primarily as an adjunct to the magazine when looking for information on boats and gear, but the magazine remains your primary tool for gathering information. That certainly seems to be the case with boats, where the magazine, boat dealer, and boat shows remain the key components of your purchasing process. And while the number of actual boat purchases via the Web is so small as to be insignificant, some 13 percent of you say you have purchased marine electronics and gear on the Net over the last year.

Because the magazine is still king, whatever we do eventually put online will no doubt augment it, not simply replicate it. Perhaps that means running more of what you've told us you love: product reviews, maintenance tips, and cruising information. It does not mean cluttering an electronic PMY with information like weather forecasts, which you can get more completely in other places.

Whatever this new PMY Web site we're currently building may eventually turn out to be, you can be sure it will not replace or duplicate the good old portable, user-friendly, printed magazine. Supplement it, sure. Enhance it, by all means. But until you can roll up a computer and stuff it in your back pocket, PMY in print is here to stay.

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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