Dennis Publishing, the iconic UK publisher founded by Felix Dennis in 1973, has today announced it will combine its auto titles creating a separate company named Autovia. The new company will combine content with commerce, and provide ‘360 degree’ coverage of the UK auto industry for brands, advertisers and consumers.
Titles and assets to be wrapped into the new company include Auto Express, the UK’s biggest-selling weekly car magazine; Driving Electric, the UK’s first title dedicated to the emerging electric market; Car Throttle, the UK’s largest social media car community; Driver Power, the most in-depth survey into the UK car-buying public; and BuyaCar, the UK’s first online used car buying site, offering the largest online inventory.
With 170 staff, the combined turnover of Autovia’s brands last year was £73M. The portfolio currently has 1.1m subscribers and generates over 27m unique visitors to its titles and websites each month.
The initiative comes just over three years since private equity firm Exponent purchased Dennis Publishing in October 2018 from The Felix Dennis Estate in an undisclosed deal. Since the acquisition, Dennis has continued to focus on growing its core subscriptions business, acquiring Kiplinger in 2019 and launching The Week Junior US in 2020, while also expanding alternate revenue streams.
Leveraging content with ecommerce
Of particular focus for Exponent has been Dennis’s car purchasing website ‘BuyACar’, which was shortlisted for Digiday’s “Best E-Commerce Strategy” award in 2018. BuyaCar purchases vehicles from franchise dealers, but not until an order has been made, thus avoiding any liabilities associated with holding stock.
The marriage of Dennis’ auto content with its BuyaCar website has played a significant role in the publisher’s ecommerce success, with 10 percent of BuyaCar’s car transactions coming directly from referral traffic from Dennis’s own auto titles. Such has been the success of BuyACar, the site is now selling many thousands of vehicles each year, with Dennis reaching two out of three UK in-market car buyers at any one time.
Autovia Chairman, Peter Plumb, comments, “The investment pouring into online car sales over the last two years has jump-started a sector-wide ‘race to digital’, opening up opportunities for those with the broadest and most engaged reach, the richest audience data and the most trusted brands & content.”
Andy Oldham, Autovia’s CEO (who built Britain’s leading cashback and voucher platform Quidco), adds, “Combining the insight and influence from the UK’s most widely-consumed automotive media brands, with almost 20 years experience hosting, selling and delivering direct to consumers enables Autovia to even more effectively serve partners and support growth.”
The impact of Covid-19
While Covid-19 has impacted sales in the short term, Autovia expects the sector to bounce back strongly, driven by new post-lockdown dynamics. 86% of drivers surveyed by Autovia expressed a strong preference for travelling in their own vehicle over public transport as a result of Covid-19, suggesting a wave of new buyers poised to enter the market.
Autovia has also seen a 175% increase in searches related to electric vehicles across its media and ecommerce portfolio, with 64% of respondents citing cheaper running costs as the number one motivator for switching to electric.
“While it’s been a hard year for the industry, pent-up demand, combined with the falling costs of electric, and changing attitudes to the role of cars in our lives means there is plenty of opportunity for those who can navigate the changing consumer landscape.”Andy Oldham, CEO, Autovia
Publishers look to ecommerce to drive growth and diversify revenues
Dennis remains an exception amongst publishers in the percentage of revenue it derives from ecommerce, but this is changing as publishers worldwide start to recognize and leverage the trust built up between themselves and their audiences.
Publishers like The Denver Post, for example, have an online store that sells Colorado photos (grouped around themes like National Parks and the Denver Broncos) taken by its photojournalists. Whilst the aforementioned example only generates marginal revenue, other publishers have gone ‘all in’ with Marie Claire Edit being perhaps the most high-profile example of a publisher leveraging its brand equity to launch a bespoke ecommerce offering – Marie Claire Edit now generates well over £2 million a month in fashion sales.
However, publishers are only too mindful that whilst trust takes years to build, it can be destroyed quickly. Dennis Publishing has been particularly vigilant with its auto brands – BuyaCar only works with car dealers who ‘really look after their customers’. As Pete Wootton, Dennis’ COO said in an interview in 2018, “if something goes wrong, it looks bad on Dennis, not the dealer.”
With nine million monthly visitors across nine brands, 14 million social media followers, relationships with the top 30 manufacturers and over 14,000 dealerships, Dennis is all too aware that it’s greatest ecommerce currency is trust.