Infinity & Beyond: Magazines Expand Their Brands
While the E vs. P debate rages on (often in these very pages!), we know there's more to a magazine than what's contained in its pages, be they inked or digitized. The brand is the thing, and defining, building and expanding a magazine's brand is now the crucial task of publishers everywhere. Last month Harper's Bazaar's VP/publisher Carol Smith talked to Publishing Executive about her magazine's move into e-commerce. This month Elisa Ludwig explores some other magazine moves into supplementary media.
Dwell: Finding New Opportunities for E-commerce
Modern living magazine Dwell's polished, minimal aesthetic is at the heart of the brand, and soon, an online initiative will make a select number of pictured items available for purchase to readers. If an article shows a particular cement treatment for the floor, for instance, they can click through to find out how to get their own floors to look like that.
"The question we ask is how can we extend the Dwell experience into a new form and engage users meaningfully, encourage readers to 'lean forward.' We think Dwell is in a unique position to do that-we have an established brand and authority to leverage," says executive vice president Brandon Huff.
For Huff, who came to Dwell Media from Yahoo, it's a familiar yet challenging business problem. "Very traditional media companies have approached this intersection between media content and commerce where the engagement or experience is in the content itself. So if you're reading an article about furniture and you want to go shopping, here's a path to click. But by the time you get there, that link might not have anything directly relational to the subject matter," Huff says. "We've seen over and over again that it's very hard to do this well."
Part of the problem, Huff says, is that media companies often bring in an outside firm to establish the e-commerce piece. "Creating that contextualization is difficult if you're relying on someone else to speak for your content and your media brand. I get why people do it, but I think it takes away from that authentic experience and readers will know the difference."
It's not a one-size-fits all process, Huff says, and what works for one media company may not work for another. "You have to decide where the focus and value is and be very deliberate and true to who you are."
A key to success is keeping the editorial staff engaged in the project, Huff says, and not let advertisers drive the content decisions-even when it's creating a catalog of consumer goods. "In the same way we keep a Chinese wall between editorial and advertising, we want to maintain a divide here, so it's not as though an advertiser can buy some banners to be included in our catalog. The particular products we sell have to be meaningful and right," Huff says.
At every step of the way, Huff intends to keep the ultimate goal in sight. "In the end, we're not looking to be a billion-dollar shopping company-we want to be a billion-dollar media company, using our assets in clever and differentiating ways."
The Nation: Going Deep with Ebooks
Since its founding in 1855, The Nation has been known for quality writing and incisive commentary on current issues. That rich history was a treasure trove for brand extension, says Art Stupar, VP, Circulation. This year, The Nation launched two ebooks, State of the Union by Gore Vidal and Letters to The Nation by Molly Ivins, each drawing from the magazine's archive.
"It's really a natural outgrowth of our success with digital editions of the magazine," Stupar says. "For several years, it's been evident that our audience likes that format-30,000 of our 150,000 paid subscribers are getting the magazine online. So we decided to put together an ebook program to appeal to those readers."
First and foremost, Stupar said, was the decision not to approach other publishers and instead produce the ebooks in-house. "We did the whole thing ourselves from soup to nuts, using in-house talent for curation, edits, production, art and marketing." Keeping the process internal meant that the magazine's progressive political point of view would be front and center, and the tone and flavor of the books would align seamlessly with the magazine's content.
The ebooks are available on The Nation's E-Book Nation website, as well as in traditional ebook stores such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes, for $9.99. The Nation keeps one hundred percent of the proceeds from its direct commerce site.
The plan going forward is to release an ebook at least once a month, and the third title on deck is a collection of Kurt Vonnegut essays. In addition to culling works by late writers, the ebook format will be used to deliver current contributors' in-depth pieces that are too lengthy for the magazine, Stupar says.
Sales have totaled over 1,000 copies for the first two titles combined, and Stupar has been pleasantly surprised with this outcome. "I think it's just a matter of understanding your audience and what they want. We've been very excited to see that it's a success right out of the gate, and a great start to what I think will be an important program for us."
Food & Wine: Live Content
While book publication and merchandizing are organic outlets for many magazines, brand extension can also include a live experience for readers. For 25 years, Food & Wine has sponsored the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado. What began as a small local event has grown into an international happening. "Over time, the magazine's involvement has made the Classic a bigger deal, adding cooking demos, sponsorships and advertiser integration," says publisher Christina Grdovic.
The success of the annual festival has inspired the magazine to sponsor other epicurean events. "Everybody's looking for new ways to make money that also make sense. To use a common phrase in publishing, events are a way to bring the magazine to life. About twelve years ago we decided to sponsor the South Beach Wine and Food Festival and that has led to what we call Food & Wine festival mania," Grdovic says, estimating that there are some fifteen events the magazine sponsors in the U.S., the Caribbean and Mexico. "Obviously, we wouldn't do so many if it wasn't a good business decision."
Events are a natural fit for a magazine about the gastronomic experience-if readers enjoy a vicarious tasting experience through reading, they certainly appreciate the chance to interact with chefs and sommeliers in real time, tasting their wares, trying out new equipment and attending food- and wine-related talks.
Most importantly, though, an event drives revenue through advertiser involvement. "It allows us to continually offer new opportunities for advertisers and potential advertisers-and they go well beyond food and wine to appliances, cruise lines and automotive, among others. People who are passionate about food are also typically passionate about other things and events bring exposure for advertisers as well as the magazine to a broader audience."
Dovetailing with the Food & Wine Classic, the magazine has also developed a partnership and licensing agreement with the St. Regis Aspen hotel to operate a Chefs Club restaurant, extending its Best New Chef platform-what Grdovic calls a "dream franchise"-to real-time diners, and there are plans to expand to Starwood resorts in other cities. Cookbooks, an ongoing relationship with Bravo's Top Chef and an upcoming Best New Chef line of cookbooks are other ways that the magazine reaches beyond its pages. "In the end you have to be true to your brand and your vision and have editorial behind you," Grdovic says. "If those things fall into place and it makes good financial sense then you will be successful."
Hearst Magazines: When a Brand Extension Becomes A New Brand
At Hearst Magazines, Mark Gompertz serves as creative director of content extensions, tasked with developing new revenue streams, direct-to-consumer marketing and product capabilities for the company's 20 (soon to be 21) properties. For Gompertz, who came from Simon & Schuster, where he worked to develop ebook strategies and enhanced ebooks, it's been an interesting application of his experience. "Up until a year ago, Hearst had never done more than upsell other magazines to readers. My first job was to look to the archive of content and see what could be repurposed for the bookstore trade," he says. That's led to e-publications such as a 2012 Thanksgiving cookbook sourcing recipes from across Hearst's multiple magazines."
Gompertz's biggest project, however, has been to leverage Good Housekeeping's annual Anti-Aging Awards feature into the Seven Years Younger brand, a joint effort from an internal team representing the company's corporate, print, digital, editorial and marketing divisions. The content, research and product testing from the Good Housekeeping Institute, in the categories of skin, makeup, hair, diet, exercise, mind and stress reduction, was compiled into a book format.
"We worked hard to create 'pre-awareness,' as it were," Gompertz says. Seven Years Younger was marketed for several months leading up to its January release with editorial integration in Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Country Living and Woman's Day and appeared on television programs such as Dr. Oz and the Today Show. The result was a high profile launch and a four-week stay on The New York Times Bestseller list. "We needed proof of concept and this was it," Gompertz says. More books, including a cookbook, are in production, and Gompertz is working with food manufacturers to test the possibility for a line of Seven Years Younger products. Gompertz is also researching other concepts for future books.
Crucial to the enterprise, Gompertz says, is getting management buy-in from the beginning, and in a company like Hearst where the product is being promoted across platforms, he also needed buy-in from each publication. "We have a bigger P&L to think about, and that's the corporation's. We're living in a very different and exciting marketplace now and we have to realize there's a new normal out there. Being flexible and responding to the market is the name of the game."
Elisa Ludwig is a freelance writer and young adult author based in Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Publishers Weekly and Details, among other publications.