Salon Media CEO Weighs in on New E-commerce Venture
Salon.com, the pioneering online magazine that debuted in 1995 and publishes news and political articles along with reviews and articles about music, books, films and food, opened its first e-commerce venture in December to expand its lifestyle brand.
The Salon Store's mission is "to offer a collection of products that reflect what always interests us at Salon—startling creativity, soul-pleasing utility, interesting ideas, unique perspectives and sometimes just the profound wackiness of our culture," according to a post on Salon.com written by Richard Gringas, Salon Media's CEO.
The Salon Store showcases products–it does not have warehouse or hold inventory.
"We're guides and commentators, not shopkeepers in the traditional sense," Grigas wrote. "We'll guide you to a great collection of products and to good merchants from whom you can purchase these products. Strictly speaking, you don't purchase from the Salon Store; you purchase through the Salon Store, from an affiliated merchant."
Salon pockets 10 to 30 percent of each transaction made on the site through its affiliate marketing program; the rest of the sales go to its manufacturers/vendors/artisans/retailers partners.
The Salon Store hopes to bring its visitors "different, interesting and somewhat rare products, many of them will necessarily be of limited availability," Gringas continued. "So, my apologies in advance if you find that the product you want is out of stock."
Among the quirky offerings, which range in price from $8 to $140: a dog weekender bag ($7), a jet lag alarm clock ($40), and a stainless steel oyster glove ($140). The store does not have any branded-Salon merchandise.
Publishing Executive Inbox spoke with Gringas to discuss the venture in more detail.
INBOX: Why did you decide to open the Salon Store?
RICHARD GRINGAS: Strategically, we felt it was sensible for us to develop additional sources of revenues beyond advertising. And we felt there was an opportunity for us to engage in e-commerce. Salon, as a content property, represents a set of values, and as such, it seemed to me that Salon had the potential as well to be a lifestyle brand. …
We launched the store on Cyber Monday with a holiday gift collection. But it will evolve and we'll include additional products and categories of products going forward. We'll launch a category of food-related products this quarter, for example.
INBOX: How do you go about selecting the merchandise?
GRINGAS:We have a merchandising person working with us, John Pound, who was the CEO of Smith & Hawken [a high-end garden retailer that closed up shop last summer] who is deeply experienced in retail and online retail, as well as products oriented toward the intelligent and affluent Salon reader. He's also the voice of the store, and he has a store blog where he writes about the products he selects.
INBOX: How did you go about promoting the store when it opened?
GRINGAS: There was heavy promotion on Salon.com, and there still is. We're constantly reminding our visitors that we have a store. We've also included promotional components in e-mails to our subscribers [Salon has some subscribers who pay a fee to read Salon.com without ads], and we've used third-party marketing campaigns with other marketing partners.
INBOX: Some of our readers may be interested in selling merchandise. If so, what advice can you offer them?
GRINGAS: Well, for one, don't try this endeavor if your brand doesn't have the right personality for it. I think the Salon brand has the perfect personality for this, but not all brands do.
Also, be careful about how you walk the line between editorial and commerce. We won't have our writers write about the products we sell. We toe that line very carefully.
Another tip: Keep trying different things and seeing what works and what doesn't. Launching an e-commerce site and being successful with it takes a fair amount of experimentation.
Finally, don't become a retailer in the sense of holding inventory. We wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't for the nature of the Web itself, which spurned a tremendous amount of e-commerce activity with small vendors offering innovative and unique products. Many of these products are suited to our audience, and it probably hasn't seen them before.