E-commerce is a fast-growing segment of consumer spending. According to eMarketer, e-retail sales accounted for 10.2% of global retail sales and was set to reach 17.2% by 2021.
Mobile is taking up an increasing market share of the e-commerce pie. According to a report by Javelin Strategy and Research, mobile commerce is set to grow to $319B by 2020—it stood at $122B in 2015. Further, the report estimates that m-commerce will make up 49% of e-retail by 2020, compared to 29% in 2015.
Publishers have certain natural advantages vis-à-vis e-commerce because of their expertise in specific areas and potential customers among their audience. Those who review products for their readers are building up on that by enabling customers to easily make purchases as well.
The FIPP Innovation in Media 2019-2020 World Report highlights how some publishers are experimenting with e-commerce to make it a sustainable source of revenue.
Publishers already produce trusted content, which brands cannot, and now the media companies can also provide a level of convenience that brands also cannot match.FIPP Innovation in Media 2019-2020 World Report
“Develop recurring revenue streams from readers”
New York Magazine, which has been giving shopping recommendations to its print readers for five decades, does it online now. In fact, it has gone beyond recommendations with its dedicated e-commerce brand, The Strategist, which enables readers to make purchases from its site through affiliate links.
The Strategist was launched in November 2016 and has a team of three editors who produce three stories every day that are then posted across New York Magazine’s sites like The Cut, Select All and Grub Street.
The editors delve into data to identify products readers are searching for and make selections for reviews and recommendations. They also use editorial judgment to recommend unique products that they think will do well with their readers.
Early success centered around practical items everybody needs and that came highly recommended by someone they trusted. One of our writers found a pair of nail clippers in an airport in Japan, saw them on Amazon, and we sold a ton of nail clippers. That kind of success led us to decide that a standalone commerce brand could be a success.Camilla Cho, Executive Director of Business Development & Strategy at New York Media
According to Cho, their strategy has succeeded beyond expectations. The publisher’s affiliate revenue from product sales tripled from 2017 to 2018.
Solution and utility-focused content
Another legacy publisher, Meredith is successfully selling cooking ingredients online based on recipes published on its sites. In 2018, the publisher entered into a partnership with eMeals, a subscription meal-planning app, to offer curated meal plans to its users.
Editors from Meredith brands Better Homes and Gardens, EatingWell and Allrecipes contribute meal plans and recipes to the app in exchange for a portion of subscription revenue.
Users of the eMeals app can view meal plans developed by Meredith’s editors and staff nutritionists. They can select the meals they want to add to their weekly plans, save recipes and automatically generate weekly shopping lists with ingredients from those recipes.
They can then buy the ingredients from grocery stores, or place their order in the app itself to be delivered by Walmart Grocery, AmazonFresh, Instacart or Kroger ClickList.
Over the last year, we’ve really started to think about our content as much more solution and utility-focused. We’ve started to position commerce—and making that commerce dead easy—as a fully integrated component of the content itself.Corbin de Rubertis, VP and GM of Shopper Marketing at Meredith
According to Corbin de Rubertis, VP and GM of Meredith’s shopper marketing, between 2016 and 2018 e-commerce contributed to nearly 25% of the publisher’s food sites’ revenue.
Andy Wilson, SVP, Consumer Revenue at Meredith says, “We’re acting in concert with our overall strategy of trying to develop recurring revenue streams from readers. As long as it’s relevant and useful, contextualized and appropriately targeted at the audience, we believe it’s part of the content in a lot of ways.
“It saves the consumers from having to go off to retailers’ sites sometimes and kind of ping pong back and forth. This way, they get the inspiration and they can act on it immediately.”
Some publishers like Hearst have gone beyond product recommendations and are dabbling in product creation as well. In 2018, the publisher created an interactive Yoga mat, named Backslash Fit. The mat works with Amazon’s Alexa to guide its users through yoga poses and routines created in-house by the editorial team of the Hearst title Women’s Health.
Hearst has a 15-person product studio team that collaborates with editors of its various titles to conceive and test product ideas. They analyze top-performing stories on Hearst lifestyle brand sites and search results, as well as sales from its affiliate commerce business to come up with product ideas.
Speaking to Digiday, Hearst’s head of Consumer Products, Sheel Shah said that the publisher intended to make a profit from the Backslash Fit but was also looking at it as a test case for informing future products.
“People really do believe in buying products from our brands. So how do we go a little deeper and have more skin in the game but have deeper connections with our audience? That’s important to us over the next couple of years,” he commented.
Magazine publisher Future plc, which has a portfolio of 50 brands spread across consumer electronics, music, and photography, has also ventured into e-commerce.
According to Julian March, Former MD of Media, Games, Video, and Entertainment at Future plc, “E-commerce is not a “dirty word” in journalism anymore. Nor is it bad or evil. At Future, we provide honest and impartial advice about products answering the questions readers need answered. When good impartial content engages audiences it provides e-commerce opportunities that convert really well.”
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