LONDON, United Kingdom — Later this week, when British Vogue launches its first ever iPad application, everyone across the fashion media landscape is bound to be paying attention. After all, Vogue is the most prestigious fashion media brand in the world, lying at the heart of Condé Nast, the world’s most powerful luxury lifestyle media conglomerate, amidst a market landscape in which age-old media brands like Vogue and others are struggling with the transition to an increasingly digital business model.
Last week, the big news Stateside was that Condé Nast Digital — the digital arm of the media behemoth’s American business — not only lost ownership of Style.com to fellow Condé Nast stablemate Fairchild Fashion Group, but it also lost control of the websites of all the major Condé Nast titles, giving full ownership of these titles to the publishers of the magazines. Positioned as a restructuring “driven by the marketplace,” it’s a dramatic about-face for a company that is beginning to recognise that fully integrated teams of editors and publishers need to oversee all of the digital and offline content and operations in order to offer the seamless experience that consumers and advertisers increasingly expect.
But in the UK, pioneering fashion website Vogue.co.uk — established in 1995, well ahead of its American counterpart which was only set up this past year — remains a separate organisational entity from that of British Vogue the magazine. The new iPad application, on the other hand, was overseen by British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Shulman and spearheaded by Art Director Robin Derrick, working with external partners Spring Studios and Six Creative.
In another BoF Exclusive, we got to see the new British Vogue iPad application first, before anybody else. I met with Ms. Shulman at the historic Vogue House in London’s Hanover Square last week to understand how the application — featuring December 2010 cover star Emma Watson — was developed, its underlying business and content strategy, and how this experiment could spark future digital innovation.
BoF: Let’s cover the basics first. How often will the new Vogue iPad app be released and how much does it cost?
Alexandra Shulman: At the moment, this is a one-off. We have every intention of having a monthly British Vogue app available, but when that will be is not entirely clear, nor frankly in what form that will be in when we do it. When you see this app, you'll see it's very dense, a lot of work, and quite experimental. It's not something we'd be in the position to do every month at this stage.
Doing the app has been fantastic for raising questions and acted as a sort of glamorous experiment. We just wanted to see what you could do, what you couldn't do; what looked good, what didn't look good. We kept the things that looked good, chucked out the things that didn't work. The next one we do will not necessarily be the same as this.
And yes, one thing that really excites me is that you have to pay for the iPad app. It is going to be £3.99, which is fractionally cheaper than the magazine which costs £4.
BoF: What does the app include in terms of content?
AS: There is a complete version of the December 2010 issue of the magazine, which is a star-themed issue: star models, star signs, Hollywood stars, that sort of thing.
The cover of the app is the same as the magazine, but a button appears that links to a little behind-the-scenes movie that Mario Testino's team made of his shoot with Emma Watson. There are several behind-the-scenes videos of different elements of Vogue shoots, including a how-to video with Lisa Eldridge that list the make-up products used in one of the shoots.
The 'Fashion Player' takes our fashion shoots and enhances them, turning them into multi-sensory experiences with music and moving images.
And, there is also 'Vogue Shops' which takes all the front-of-book and back-of-book content that's not in fashion shoots and sorts it by product type. At the moment, it does not actually link out to shopping sites or our own fashion shop, but this could happen in the future.
BoF: Who do you expect will buy the new Vogue app, and why?
AS: There are different kinds of people who we expect will buy the app and different reasons for buying. Some people, I think, will buy the app primarily to read Vogue as a magazine. Maybe they are traveling and don't want to lug the magazine with them. Maybe they're the kind of person who has just got really engaged with reading on-screen. Being able to read your magazines and newspapers is a very motivating reason for having an iPad.
But then you've got people who probably aren't going to read a PDF of the magazine with any interest. They are going to be interested in the enhanced shoots, the extra content, the whole 'technological thing' of it.
BoF: Beyond the cover price, what additional forms of monetisation does the app support?
AS: If you advertise in the print magazine your ad appears automatically on the iPad app issue too at no extra charge. There is another option – to add a link to your ad, which 19 brands have chosen to do, at a small additional cost.
There is also a section of augmented advertising opportunities using rich media which have been taken by Burberry, Chanel, Fendi, Gucci, Parfum Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren and Tiffany. Augmented options vary from Burberry — where the model moves her head as you run your finger across the app — to high definition films. This package is available at an extra cost. Opportunities have been deliberately limited to ensure these campaigns stand out.
One of the most interesting lessons for us has been that actually most of the brands don't have the enhanced content material as yet and are therefore not able to make the most of what the iPad offers.
BoF: Why did you choose not to integrate shopping into the app itself?
AS: It's been a big enough project doing the app, without starting an online shop as well! For now, we wanted people to stay within the world of Vogue.
BoF: Is there any integration or link to the Vogue.co.uk website?
AS: Not at the moment. My thought is that you're going to have the magazine, you're going to have the app, and you're going to have the website. Essentially they all have to be part of the same tree, and we've got to work out what content plays to what media's strengths.
We're actually not structured like that at the moment, and it's quite a big shift to do that. I absolutely take responsibility for the new iPad app, because it's got as much of my editorship as the magazine, but I don't edit the website. Dolly Jones, who edits the website, does a fantastic job. But we do have problems in cross-over and duplication. And the existence of the iPad application – once we do roll it out monthly – will necessarily shift what kind of content is on the website.
The website's great strength is its total speed of reaction. The app is not a reactive thing. The way we're going with it is quite beautiful and creative, and obviously will have increasing connectivity, but it's a kind of leisurely experience whereas I see the website as the place where we're going to get the breaking news.
But yes, it's probably all got to come from one source. Then again, I think there is an element of 'beware of your wishes they might come true' with all of the people like me saying that. Whilst I want to have the control, I'm aware of the fact that there are only so many hours in a day and you can't possibly really be micromanaging the website the way it needs to be and doing everything else. I think one needs to look at structures and skills. They are very skilled online in doing what they do. I wouldn't for a moment say that we could do it better. But we have been trying to encourage a move in that direction here.
BoF: Now that this first 'glamorous experiment' is over, in order for this to become an ongoing complement to the magazine, are there going to have to be significant investments and structural changes?
AS: As I understand it, what a lot of people are doing is simply providing a PDF version of their magazines. If we just put a PDF player on, that wouldn't take very much..but it doesn't particularly interest me to do that alone.
The point about Vogue in terms of fashion photography is that we've got all these advantages: we've got these fantastic contributors, we've got great production values and skills. It seems a pity not to use them in this medium. I think people would be disappointed to get just a PDF. But what the enhanced content will be and how much of it there will be, I think, is what the real question is.
The way I see the future is that you'll have Vogue, and you'll either want the magazine — and I still have a great faith in the magazine still being a very desirable thing to have — or you'll have the app, and maybe some people will buy both. And of course, at some stage, you will be able to shop from the page.
Expectations? We'd heard through the grapevine that the new Vogue app was going to be nothing more than a PDF version of the print magazine, a tactic already used by many other magazines, and hardly a revolutionary way to use digital technology. Thankfully, the rumour mill was wrong. Given the amazing skills, experience and contributors at Vogue's disposal, we were relieved to see these resources utilised in new digital formats.
First impressions? Conducting a 'glamorous experiment' seems like a very sensible way to explore the potential for the iPad as a vehicle to communicate Vogue's singular fashion vision. Like Net-a-Porter, Vogue smartly chose to do a test-run issue for the iPad and use it as a learning experience. Everyone benefits from this: the editors get to see which kind of content shines on the iPad and what it takes to deliver the content, the ad sales team get to gauge the market's reaction to new interactive advertising opportunities, and consumers get to experience Vogue content on an exciting new medium. And, all of this feedback can be used to shape future issues.
Most potential? It's not surprising that what Vogue does best is create compelling content. In particular, the enhanced content 'Fashion Player' with moving images and music — the Jourdan Dunn shoot in particular comes to mind — really takes the Vogue fashion shoot to a whole new level, creating a highly-appealing kind of fashion film hybrid which uses a mixture of still and moving images, created by some of the absolute best models, photographers, and stylists in the business.
What’s missing? Integration, integration, integration. There was a real opportunity to provide the user a seamless digital fashion experience, but the Vogue app felt somewhat choppy. Separating the shopping content from the interactive advertisements from the non-interactive PDF content and the enhanced videos means that users have to navigate around the app, as opposed to experiencing it as an integrated whole. A true 'lean-back' experience should be more immersive and less navigational. Granted, this may have been far more technically difficult to achieve for this 'glamorous experiment', but it should be a priority going forward. Users are ultimately most interested in content, and divorcing the content from the advertisements means that advertisers may not get the best bang for their buck. Unlike the magazine, everything in digital is measurable. Advertisers will want to know how many people play their videos and click on their links.
One more thing. The British Vogue app, like most magazine apps, has been developed with a print-centric mindset where consumers are, for the most part, silent and passive observers. Digital, on the other hand, is an inherently social medium in which people can participate and share and is rapidly changing consumer behavior and expectations. While traditional consumers of Vogue may be satisfied with the monologue mode, we suspect that digital natives — the Vogue consumers of the future — will be left wanting more. There is some limited connectivity that allows users to share and discuss slices of content via Facebook and email, but Twitter functionality, integration with the Vogue.co.uk website, and an opportunity to participate in the content would increase the reason to buy and create social buzz, which in turn could drive more app sales.
Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion.