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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Staff Cuts to Streamline eStart

In a bid to keep a brand in a downward Internet market, Independent Media publishing house announced further cuts in its once ambitious eStart project (, but vowed to keep it running.

Several more eStart employees were laid off last week in what Independent Media board member Mikhail Dubik described as "internal streamlining."

The web site's founding editor, Konstantin Chernozatonsky, resigned last week over the cuts, which reduced the staff to about 20 people.

Independent Media, the Dutch-owned parent company of The Moscow Times, also publishes a number of glossy magazines, including Russian editions of Cosmopolitan, Men's Health and Playboy and its own titles Yes!, Kult Lichnostei and Kto.

The eStart project was originally devised by Chernozatonsky as a small lifestyle web site. But by the time it was launched in late May last year, it had grown to employ some 50 people and was heralded as nothing short of Russia's answer to Yahoo, a portal meant to capitalize on an Internet boom that seemed just around the corner.

But by November, the atmosphere on the Internet market worldwide had changed radically, and eStart had to shut down several channels including the labor-intensive news department.

Independent Media CEO Derk Sauer said Monday that, despite grim predictions, eStart will survive and will not merge with any other Internet company. "The best way is to keep it independent and take some costs," he said.

He also said that the $5 million committed to eStart on a 50-50 basis by Independent Media and its Dutch partner VNU has not been spent in its entirety. He said total accumulated costs have reached several hundred thousand dollars.

Dubik said that after last week's cuts, which he said were "final," eStart's operational costs are one-third of what they were last summer and this will insure the project's continued existence. His optimism was boosted by a series of contracts with major advertisers, such as the Schwarzkopf and Nivea cosmetics brands.

"We are determined to preserve the product in the conditions of cruel reassessment on the Internet market," he said.

Sauer and Dubik said the cuts were not related to VNU's decision to sell its 35 percent stake in Independent Media, which is part of its decision to sell its publishing and Internet holdings throughout Europe. VNU's share in eStart will be sold to the new buyer as a part of the package.

Chernozatonsky said he resigned as he was uninterested in running a scaled-back project. He said he was offered another job in Independent Media, which he refused to specify.

Yuliana Puchkova, who served as his deputy, will run eStart.