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Salon enters the world of e-commerce with 'curated' stuff

December 1, 2009 |  5:23 pm

Grass
Want your very own 7-inch by 7-inch indoor lawn? Now you can get it from Salon.com. Credit: Salon.com.
The pioneering online magazine Salon, which debuted in 1995, opened its first e-commerce venture this week. Salon Store offers readers of the famously liberal site the opportunity to buy selected books, gadgets, household items and novelties.

But don't call the man in charge of the venture a manager or buyer. On the site, he's referred to as the "curator." And the items for sale are the "curated collection." 

Richard Gingras, chief executive of parent company Salon Media, took a near-apologetic tone when explaining why this site that deals with hard-hitting political issues has started selling stuff.

"Why do we think the interests of Salon and its audience translate into products?" he wrote in an essay on the site. "Because, in various ways, things matter to all of us. They make statements, they offer solutions, they express or create emotion."

And he wanted to make it clear that Salon does not actually stock the items, explaining that orders placed on the site would be fulfilled by affiliated merchants. "We're guides and commentators, not shopkeepers in the traditional sense," Gingras wrote.

Does that mean Salon is not interested in money, in the traditional sense?

Answering readers who posted comments to his essay, Gingras disclosed that the site gets a commission on any item it sells. "As you may know, Salon has had mixed financial results over the years," he said.

In 2003 the company reported it was more than $80 million in debt and was having a hard time making its rent. The rocky financial times are clearly not over.

"It is very important," Gingras continued on the site, "we achieve better financial results going forward."

Even so, some fans of Salon.com were not happy with the debut of the store. "Product endorsement is a slippery slope," one wrote. Another cracked that one of the products -- a $20 ceramic coffee cup made to look like a Styrofoam cup -- shows "students, the poor, the unemployed and Afghans that Salonists care!"

But even detractors allowed that at least some of the more than 100 items in the "collection" were pretty cool. 

Among the offerings: a flashlight made of wood ($48), a cardboard radio with admittedly "crappy" sound ($36), a book of hand-drawn lost-pet posters ($13), a solar-powered toy car ($40), an eco-friendly skateboard made of bamboo ($148) and a miniature, living-grass lawn enclosed in a 7-inch frame ($70).

-- David Colker

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