NEW YORK, United States — In recent seasons, fashion brands have learnt to think like publishers, creating original digital content to earn attention and attract fans who will carry their message across the internet. But the reverse is also true: squeezed by shrinking advertising budgets, traditional content creators like magazines are learning to think like retailers, embracing e-commerce to open new revenue streams and monetise their content.
“Publishers are the number one generators of purchasing intent for brands every day, but are being allocated an ever shrinking amount of ad dollars,” said Philippe von Borries, co-founder and publisher of popular fashion website Refinery29.com.
Indeed, “intent generators” like magazines are losing their fair share of sales revenue to “intent harvesters” like shopping sites at the end of the purchasing process, observes internet entrepreneur Chris Dixon in an insightful blog post entitled “A Massive Misallocation of Online Advertising Dollars.”
Mr. Dixon suggests that better techniques for tracking how publishers generate purchase intent could lead to a more favorable allocation of advertising dollars, allowing content sites to focus purely on producing content. But many magazines are hedging their bets, becoming both “intent generators” and “intent harvesters” by launching their own online shops and integrating them into their editorial platforms.
Time Inc’s key fashion title InStyle first launched InStyle Shopping back in 2007, letting consumers browse and buy an edited array of products from retailers like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Bergdorf Goodman, and earning the magazine a share of the sales revenue. According to Simeen Mohsen, InStyle’s director of digital business operations, InStyle Shopping has “moved more than $10 million in product since launch.”
While InStyle declined to quantify exactly what this number means in terms of revenue for the magazine, other online publications and blogs earn 8 to 12 percent on clicks that lead to successful sales via affiliate programmes. Even if InStyle only earned about half as much — say 5 percent — this would translate to $500 thousand in revenue since 2007.
But ShopStyle, the social shopping engine that has powered InStyle Shopping since launch, states on their website: “The rate you are paid per click depends on a number of factors, including how often clicks result in sales for the retailer, the amount of each sale, and whether those products are returned for a refund. As a result, the rate you are paid can vary over time.”
Building on the success of InStyle Shopping, Time Inc. recently made a strategic move to deepen the integration of e-commerce across InStyle.com. In January, the publisher acquired StyleFeeder, a personal shopping engine that uses pattern recognition technology to make product recommendations. StyleFeeder is expected to be woven throughout InStyle’s website and replace the current partnership with ShopStyle. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Fran Hauser, head of digital strategy for the group that manages InStyle, explained: “Our editors are generating significant consumer demand for products in the retail market. And what StyleFeeder allows us to do is share in that value creation.”
InStyle isn’t the only magazine that’s been integrating e-commerce into its offering. Last November, Condé Nast’s Lucky magazine added online shopping to its editorial platform, bringing intent generation and intent harvesting together in one destination. “We felt strongly that we wanted to weave the eboutique into Luckymag.com rather than create a separate ecommerce site,” said Mary Gail Pezzimenti, Lucky magazine’s web director. “We believe that women want to shop alongside great fashion how-to advice, styling videos, fashion news and galleries of great outfits or hairstyles.”
Independent fashion titles have also been experimenting with e-commerce. Last Autumn, AnOther Magazine launched AnOther Shop, an online boutique with specially commissioned merchandise, from artworks by Jake and Dinos Chapman to laptop cases by Gareth Pugh. Then, a couple of months later, AnOther Magazine launched AnOther Loves, a product recommendation engine that sits alongside, but separate from AnOther Shop. It’s a bit like a collective blog, with product picks crowdsourced from a carefully selected list of contributors. “We wanted to turn this collection of desirable goods into a collaborative stream, and with a little semantics have realised this could be very useful for recommendations,” said Alistair Allan, digital director at Dazed Group which publishes AnOther.
Magazine brands are also positioning themselves to generate and harvest purchase intent beyond their websites. During London Fashion Week in February, AnOther Loves teamed up with London department store Liberty on an initiative called AnOther Loves Liberty, a curated selection of Liberty products that appeared on AnOther Loves, as well as on Liberty’s website and at their Tudor-style flagship.
Partnerships with sample sale sites have also been popular. Lucky has teamed up with Net-a-Porter’s online outlet, theOutnet.com, to host flash sales curated by Lucky editors, Hachette Filipacchi’s Elle magazine has a deal with Rue La La and Vogue is partnering with Gilt Groupe to let consumers shop select products from the current issue.
A few weeks ago, Vogue also launched an iPhone app designed to make the magazine’s advertising shopable. Called Vogue Stylist, the app is loaded with styling advice and monthly trends supplied by Vogue editors, alongside products advertised in the magazine, which consumers can browse, mix and match with items uploaded from their own closet, and ultimately click to buy. “Vogue Stylist pairs a user’s wardrobe with products from Vogue advertisers to produce a look that is both chic and new,” said Holly Tedesco, integrated marketing director at Vogue. Using the camera built into the iPhone, the app even allows readers to scan and shop physical ad pages in Vogue’s print issue.
But some magazines are going beyond branded shopping channels, curated e-commerce partnerships and shopable advertising. They are integrating e-commerce directly into their center-of-book editorial. This month, W magazine launched a shopping guide alongside images of covergirl Jennifer Aniston, with numbered bullets — and links to external shopping sites — that correspond to the clothing Ms. Aniston wears. Indeed, the integrated shopping guides appear in all of W’s fashion spreads for April.
If this kind of deep integration of commerce and core editorial content appears to pose an inherent conflict of interest, it’s worth remembering that at fashion magazines, these lines have long been blurred. Across the industry, the products featured in editorial are often a function of a magazine’s advertisers.
Furthermore, in the real lives of fashion consumers, magazines and shopping are already integrated. People have used magazines as inspirational product guides since their very inception, a behaviour that’s even easier now that editorial sites and online shops are just a click or tab away from each other. So why shouldn’t publishers offer shopping services that streamline the process for consumers and capture a share of the sales revenue that’s rightfully theirs?
That’s not to say that an independent stylistic point of view is not important. It’s tremendously important. It’s what attracts readers in the first place. Going forward, the most successful magazines will be those who are able to maintain their unique point of view, while capitalising on content that’s shopable. A contradiction? Not necessarily. A challenge? Definitely.
“Over the next few months we will be launching several new commerce products,” said von Borries of Refinery29. “We firmly believe that commerce should be an integral element of a digital content site that features new fashion products, trends and designers every hour. Commerce and community also belong together. Whoever does not embrace the two will lose out in the long run.”
Indeed, people love to shop, but even more than that, they love to shop together. While forward-thinking youth apparel brands like Vans have experimented with realtime social shopping, letting users share the experience of customising shoes, we’ve yet to see a content site that lets readers explore and shop fashion together, in realtime.
Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion