LONDON, United Kingdom — Natalie Massenet has often described fashion e-commerce site Net-a-Porter as a "fashion magazine of the future," where editorial content and commerce converge, offering consumers a seamless path from inspiration to purchase. So far, this vision has mostly taken the shape of a shopable editorial layer that sits atop the site's tightly curated product selection, providing shoppers with a point of view on the current season.
Now, under the guidance of former Harper's Bazaar (UK) editor-in-chief Lucy Yeomans — one of the highest profile editors to join a recent wave of departures from traditional fashion publishers to brands and retailers — Net-a-Porter has set its sights on building a full-scale media business to complement its curated e-commerce model, allowing the company to attract a larger audience and monetise the relationship through advertising as well as transactions.
Indeed, just last week, after announcing the formation of a new media division, Net-a-Porter set into motion the first phase of a revamped editorial strategy led by Yeomans, re-launching its weekly online magazine and debuting a 104-page one-off print issue, said to be a precursor to a yet unnamed 300-page glossy magazine that will launch in the autumn and be published 4-6 times a year. Both the print and digital products will carry advertising from a mix of brands (including those not stocked by Net-a-Porter's retail arm) and will be published in French, German and Mandarin, as well as English.
BoF sat down with Yeomans in a corner library at Net-a-Porter's vast headquarters to discuss her decision to leave Harper's Bazaar, blending commerce and content, her vision for Net-a-Porter's new editorial presence, separation of church and state, the global fashion consumer and building the fashion magazine of the future.
There's been a veritable exodus of top talent from traditional fashion publishers to brands and retailers. Why did you decide to leave Harper's Bazaar?
I'd been there for twelve years and had an incredible time taking the magazine from Harpers and Queen to Harper's Bazaar. But I felt that it was really time for a change. Natalie [Massenet] and I were both in the fashion cupboard at Tatler at one point in our lives and we'd often talk about what the future could bring. We always said, "Let's see if we can work together and create a global magazine."
I think brands like Bazaar, Elle, Vogue — they are incredible brands, they have this amazing heritage and they have such a resonance with the consumer. But I saw this as an opportunity to change the rules a bit. The traditional publishing world has so many boundaries. But the internet changes that completely. Nobody else sees boundaries anymore. I think it's so incredible because you can reach this global audience. Net-a-Porter's demographic is quite targeted in each country, but globally it's huge. On top of that, everyone is trying to work out ways to link publishing and e-commerce and this is a very exciting place to do that.
Is the old model dead?
I think you have to look after your woman. If you look after her, everything else makes sense. And the generation that's coming up, it's more and more, "We want service, we expect service." If you want a book, you want to download it onto your Kindle or iPad immediately. We are impatient now. And I think it's wonderful when you can both see something and have it.
Natalie Massenet has always described Net-a-Porter as a fashion magazine for the future. But unlike traditional magazines, Net-a-Porter monetises its audience through transactions as well as advertising. How has this changed your job as an editor?
The things that are constant are storytelling, seduction and service. You can't just make a catalogue, because a catalogue is boring. And another really important constant is a point of view; a sense of curation. It can't be just what products are new on the site this week. That's one of the reasons why we've themed the weekly issues. You are creating a dream. And wonderfully on Net-a-Porter that dream is actually actionable. But a magazine is entertainment. You have to remember to entertain and inspire, as well as provide solutions.
As for differences, when you are editing a magazine a lot of that is instinct. But what's interesting here is that instinct can be backed up by a lot of data. One of my favourite people in the business is our head of personal shopping, because she is talking to our woman every single day. It's amazing seeing their feedback and their data. We also have an incredible research panel. I think it's like 7,000 women. These are dedicated Net-a-Porter customers who have agreed to answer all our questions. When I sit in those meetings, I'm like "Oh my God, if I was sitting in a publishing house and had this kind of information…." It's incredible. When you do a focus group at a traditional magazine, when you are at Vogue or Bazaar, it's very hard to have that kind of dialogue with your reader.
What is your vision for Net-a-Porter's new editorial presence? How are you changing things?
I think the perfect magazine has elements you can shop from, it has elements you can just be inspired from, and it has amazing features. We really believe in having people just come and be entertained.
But if I had just come in and put the magazine up and not looked at the rest of the homepage experience, that would have been the wrong thing to do. We still have all those shopable areas on the homepage, but now we've got something extra and I absolutely want to make it editorial. I want to make it as good as a really strong magazine experience, because that's what our woman is used to.
I don't know whether we've actually talked about this in the press before, but we will [also] feature brands we don't stock. I don't think you can give a view of the season and I don't think you have editorial integrity otherwise. You can't cover Asian influences without talking about Prada. You can't do geometry without talking about [Louis] Vuitton. We have to make sure we are looking after the woman first. Not everything will be shopable via Net-a-Porter, but we'll make sure her path to buy those things is as easy as possible. All I want to do is make her life as easy as possible.
How are you measuring success?
It's a new venture and we're all trying to work out what's important. But obviously it's a mixture. I think it's really important that we bring new people to the site, maybe people who wouldn't have gone on it before. And for us, we can track through research, our 7000 women keep diaries for us about what they do when and what device they're on and what they're reading when – and they don't really distinguish between Vogue.com and Net-a-Porter. It's all inspiration for them. And I think this is just an exciting way for them to come to Net-a-Porter and it doesn't matter if they don't buy something – it's about the fact that they've come. Obviously, it's wonderful when they buy something and they've done the whole journey: the inspiration, the seduction, the service, the solutions and then they actually have the product.
The interesting thing is, we have over 5 million women on the site every month and the vast majority of people are just coming to look and enjoy and browse. Of course, you can shop from it, but it's a destination. Previously the magazine had to do everything. Now we've got a whole section that's about what's new and now; we call it "Chic, Hot and Here" and if Gianvito Rossi has just arrived, let's just say that, or if the first drop of Saint Laurent arrives, let's say that. We don't need to work it into a magazine story. They have complementary purposes.
Before, we were very product-focused and now we've actually got the voice of the woman coming through. I think we've really started much more of a conversation.
You spent many years in a world that, at least in theory, adheres to the principles of 'church and state,' a division between the advertising and editorial sides of a media business. Now, the internet has broken down those walls and commerce and content are freely coming together in new ways. Is 'church and state' an obsolete concept?
To be a good editor you have to have an eye on the business side of things. I totally believe in having that editorial integrity. And, as with editorial in relation to advertising, I don't think it's any different in relation to retail. From the Net-a-Porter standpoint, I'm shooting stock for the magazine, so I'm absolutely shooting what we have bought.
But if my relationship with the buyer is really fantastic, which it is, then I believe in that by as well. At the shows my fashion director and I are giving our editorial picks, and those go through to the buying team, so it's really 360. Yes, you are working with a piece of the buy, but I can honestly say that I feel like I've had more freedom to shoot what ever I want since I've been here.
Many traditional magazine publishers are struggling, yet you are planning to launch a print product. Why launch a physical magazine in such a crowded and difficult market?
I think the reason we really want to do it is our women love print. It's an experience. I love technology. I have four iPads, one iPad mini and two iPhones. But at the same time, I really love print and I think there's something incredibly luxurious about it. And for me, it goes back to the women. They buy four or five magazines per month and they often buy them in languages they don't even read because they want that point of view — because different magazine brands in different countries have quite different manifestations. I don't see this as something that's competing with Vogue, Elle, Bazaar. This is something that is very targeted.
Net-a-Porter does the shopping element so well. Having something interesting to read is just another element to the proposition and print allows us to go deeper into that. The main point is inspiration.
Let's talk tempo. Online, The Edit is published weekly, while the forthcoming print magazine is set to come out 4-6 times a year. Why did you decide on this rhythm?
On the digital side, lots of people were like "Why aren't you just doing everything that's new?" A lot of the magazine websites do news. And the fact is, we could do news, but we've chosen not to. I think the internet is like buying a really, really fast expensive car. It doesn't mean you have to drive it at 130 miles per hour all the time. I love the fact that the online magazine is weekly. It's curated. It's really just about thinking how people want to digest things. We have the ability to puree everything, so it's most easily digestible, but sometimes you want to sit and enjoy a nice meal and take your leisure. And with the internet there's the tendency to do everything all fast and new. And maybe we can do things differently. We've worked it out so there's an area of the site that does change every day if we need it too, but I quite like that the online magazine provides a lovely moment to stop and experience. It's a different tempo within the site: it's weekly, it's considered, it's curated, it's not reactive, it's putting something together with a real point of view.
As far as the print magazine, I love the idea of giving the woman a really strong message for each of the main seasons. I think there's clarity in that. And then we're playing with the pre-collections for the third issue of each season. I think the pre-collections are really interesting. They are more and more important for the brands in terms of sales – and actually there's some real jewels in there and they're great for individual style because they maybe aren't as well-known or referenced as a lot of the big runway looks.
Both the online and print products are set to be published in French, German and Mandarin, as well as English, and I want to talk about globalisation and your approach to localised content.
My views on globalisation have changed completely since I came to Net-a-Porter. At first, I thought that it was essential that we do lots of local content. I think there will certainly be elements of local content, but, again, talking to my friend in our personal shopping department, that fashion forward woman in Shanghai wants the same dress as the fashion forward woman in Dallas. It's wonderful being published from London. But we are published from London for the world. We need to be sure that we are referencing all cultures. Our woman wants to know what's happening in Shanghai and Paris and Washington. Everything we do needs to have local elements, but still have interesting international appeal.
If you were to look into the future, what do you think fashion magazines will look like in five years time?
I think it's a really hard question to answer because technology is moving so fast. But when it comes to our woman, I think we'll be able to look after her better. We'll be more bespoke in the way that we service her needs and work out what she wants to be inspired by.
Yes, bespoke content. But people also love curation. So I still think a point of view is really important. It's the reason we love going to the Tate Modern, for example. But I think with the right technology — and I think Net-a-Porter is absolutely the place that will have access to that cutting-edge technology and all that important information — we'll be able to look after that woman better.
We are able to do a lot of geo-targeting now. If it's sunny where you are, sandals come up. But I imagine in five years time, you'll be able to arrive in a freezing city and be delivered your perfect astrakhan coat at your hotel. It's amazing what this little device [iPhone] can do. The borders that once were absolutely aren't there anymore and the global nature of our business will enable us to respond.
In five years, will every magazine be a retailer? Will consumers look at a magazine that's not shopable and think it's broken?
I think so. I think the magazines with pages laden with product absolutely need to be shopable. One hundred percent. Otherwise you're just not delivering service. It would be like going to [grocery app] Ocado and having a look and then having to go to the supermarket. They have to be shopable. But I think there's still a place for inspiration. There's still an area of entertainment. People still love books and photography and art exhibitions. It's lovely that there's still an appetite for great content and great stories and we'll play to that while having shopable elements.