Publishers Challenge Retailers in Ecommerce

By Rob Yoegel

November 16, 2011

I spent two decades working for business and consumer media brands, witnessing first hand their desperate desire to reinvent themselves. So when I listened back in March to Esquire's editor-in-chief David Granger describe his magazine's new venture into ecommerce, the idea seemed destined for failure.

Seven months later, the launch of Clad, a joint initiative between Esquire and JC Penney that combines content and commerce, represents this new era of collaboration and competition, as companies seek to attract new customers, retain existing ones, and increase repeat business.

Cladmen.com

While Granger spoke about doing things mainly out of "desperation, despondency and despair," this doesn't appear to be the reason for Clad—especially when you consider that Esquire is experiencing more than 20 percent year-over-year growth in both ad pages and revenue, an anomaly in the publishing industry these days. Clad appears to accomplish exactly what Granger hoped it would: Bring consumers closer to what's featured in the magazine, while giving them the opportunity to buy the same products they read about.

But what really caught my attention is how much the Clad website integrates Esquire content into the shopping experience, specifically the "Damn Good Advice" section and editorial curation via "Esquire Picks" product badging. While many online retailers depend on user reviews and comments (as well as the social web) to help shoppers make purchase decisions, Clad effectively integrates content from Esquire contributors, including Granger himself and style editor Seth Howard.

Esquire is certainly not the first media brand to move into ecommerce, and it won't be the last. For example, F+W Media has a very successful ecommerce business that you likely haven't heard much about. From what I've been told, F+W sent most of its legacy publishing staff packing in favor of internet and ecommerce experts who could better keep pace with today's fast-moving marketplace.

It seems that decision has paid off. The result of F+W's transformation is an ecommerce business with over $10 million in revenue and 50 percent year-over-year growth. Published reports boast approximately 350,000 unique online shoppers, averaging between 12,000 and 15,000 transactions per month with an average order size of $47.

Consumers who read enthusiast magazines—for example, Popular Woodworking Magazine—are extremely loyal, allowing F+W's ecommerce websites (like ShopWoodworking.com) to remain simple, but very scalable, proven by the launch of the company's 25th store in May.

The latest research estimates that Americans will spend more than $275 billion shopping online by 2015. As the convergence of content and commerce continues, how much of this figure will be spent on established media brands like Esquire or Popular Woodworking Magazine rather than at Gap.com or eHobbies.com?

In my next post, I'll discuss how online retailers are becoming more like publishers by not only integrating videos, photo galleries, and magazine-like content into the online shopping experience, but serving advertising placements as well.

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