Is it a magazine—or catalog?
Magazines have been increasingly blurring the line between editorial and commerce, lending their names to products and shopping sites. Now, computer tablets and e-readers are making it more tempting to bridge that gap.
So far, efforts have largely been one-offs, with a few magazines like People and Wired letting readers tap on their digital editions to buy certain products through iTunes and Amazon. Now, Hearst Magazines is going all out, with plans in the coming weeks to start making many of its Kindle Fire editions shoppable by linking products to Amazon. Hearst will get a cut of the sales, which it wouldn’t disclose.
Hearst has been actively trying to wring more money out of its magazines, and in that vein, plans to commit a low seven-figure investment to e-commerce for 2012. The shopping links in its Kindle editions will echo what the company’s already been doing on some of its websites. On Goodhousekeeping.com, for example, beneath reviews of editorial products are photos of identical or similar products that are available at Amazon. Click-through rates on these sites have been impressively high, said John Loughlin, general manager of Hearst Magazines.
“Amazon is a unique opportunity because they have gazillions of SKUs,” Loughlin said. “When we feature a product, generally, it is available.”
Magazines whose editorial coverage and advertisers overlap have always endured a pay-for-play perception. As publishers tighten their relationship with retailers and make money directly from the sale of products they review, they can run the risk of appearing beholden to them or the stores that sell them.
“You have the church and state issues,” said Ken Doctor, a media analyst at Outsell. “Then there’s the question of how likely are people to click through from an article to buying something. Is that the mode they’re in when they see a mention of a product?”
These days, publishers have to compete with burgeoning sites that blend shopping with content, and they badly need the revenue as growth of print ad dollars softens. “We have a new set of competitors in Net-A-Porter and Gilt [Groupe], and we want to make sure our business models are as nimble as possible,” Hearst Magazines president David Carey said. (One of those efforts, Clad, a partnership between Hearst’s Esquire and JCPenney, has already been scrapped, though.)
The consumer demand certainly seems to be there. Forrester Research found 60 percent of tablet owners have used them to shop, while 70 percent of tablet owners would like to be able to buy items by clicking on the ads in a digital magazine, according to a survey by GfK MRI.
Loughlin said the product suggestions are added after editors make their recommendation, so there’s no interference with the editorial process. “We’re not saying to the editor, ‘You should be reviewing pots and pans,’” he said. “We’re taking their editorial perspective and applying it to what we feature.”
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