Monday, July 31, 2006

Myspace ... for Old People

Wall Street Journal reporter Kelly Greene has an interesting piece on media entrepreneurs who are focusing their attentions on the aging baby boom generation. Mentioned prominently is a new site,, which bills itself as a social networking site for those older than 50.

Unlike a lot of business reporters, Greene includes a nice dose of skepticism about the venture, noting that many past attempts to cater to aging boomers have failed. It will be interesting to see what happens in this case. I wonder if Eons could have picked a worse name for a web site targeting people who already are apprehensive about getting old.

Jeff Taylor, founder of, is spending $10 million to build an online social network. But he couldn't care less about teenagers, college students and 20-somethings, the biggest users of such Web sites. Instead, he wants their parents and grandparents.

Taylor, age 45, is launching, a kind of MySpace for the 50-plus crowd. He hopes it will one day become the online "center of gravity" for the 78 million Americans born from 1946 to 1964.

"If you are over 50, please join us . . . to start living the biggest life possible," a notice on the Web site says.

A growing number of new ventures are targeting aging baby boomers, their obsessions in the final third of their lives — and their $2 trillion in annual spending power. Start-up magazines with titles such as GeezerJock, Grand and What's Next are beckoning to boomers with advice on triathlons, grandchildren or new careers.

(Gracing the cover of recent and coming issues of Grand: Donny Osmond, Martin Sheen and Goldie Hawn.)

Retirement Living TV, started by a retirement-development operator with $50 million, is set to hit cable TV screens in September.

Advertisers of everything from autos to electronics have traditionally preferred to link their brand images with younger consumers, and they revelled in baby boomers as children and teens in decades past. Now, with the oldest boomers turning 60 this year, the new ventures raise the inevitable question: Will marketers have any use for them when they're 64? Taylor thinks so.

"A lot of corporations have openly embraced (the idea) that most of their customers are over 50, but they've never said that publicly," he says. "There's been this sensitivity to not wanting to skew too old."

He says advertisers won't worry about the image fallout if they are seen on, because the Web site's self-selecting audience will be made up of people 50-plus.

History suggests that it won't be easy: The magazine industry tried once before to cash in on boomer demographics, when the oldest boomers started turning 40 in the 1980s. New Choices. Second Wind. The titles all failed.

Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi, recalls back then helping a student sell an idea for Grandparents magazine to Meredith Corp., the Des Moines, Iowa, publisher. The upscale magazine aimed for a circulation of 500,000; it quickly folded.

"People didn't want to be reminded that they were old enough to be grandparents," Husni says.

Some media entrepreneurs this time around are slicing and dicing the interests of older adults into smaller niches. A magazine and Web site in development at Looks Media Inc., a Laguna Beach, Calif., start-up, plans to focus on health, beauty and fitness for boomer women.