Buyers Knock Condé Nast for Late Standalone Shift

In 2009, most major magazines have at least some eponymous Web presence. So as the notoriously print-centric Condé Nast only now launches standalone sites for some of its iconic print magazines, some buyers are criticizing the company for not getting in the game earlier.
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For the past couple of years, Condé Nast has been building sites for its pubs that existed only as part of its destination sites. But the effort was stalled when the economic downturn hit. Come October, the company plans to launch same-name sites for GQ and Details magazines, which until now lived online as channels of Men.Style.com. (That site will soon be folded into GQ.com). And as it stands now, Vogue, now part of the destination site Style.com, isn’t slated to get its own site until sometime in 2010.

“I think they really missed an opportunity to build the GQ brand,” said Barry Lowenthal, president of The Media Kitchen. “Men.style.com was an amalgamation of GQ and Details, and I think that therefore it lacked an identity.”
 
“They do seem to be doing some things right [online],” said Dave Martin, senior vp, digital at independent agency Ignited. “Now, it’s just a question of whether in the 11th hour they can they take some of these brands and move them online.”

Martin also questioned GQ.com’s plan to serve men content across a variety of topics, including fashion and lifestyle as well as sections for news, entertainment and cars. “Vertical Web sites sports, games, tech, news those have kind of dominated the male purview to some extent,” he said. “I don’t know that men are looking for a one-stop shop.”

By at least one estimate, Men.Style.com never got that big in Web terms. The site has labored below the 500,000 mark in terms of unique visitors over most of the past 12 months, per Compete.com.

The stepped-up recognition that the Web matters comes as Condé Nast faces deep revenue declines on the print side conditions that led the company to hire McKinsey & Co. as part of a realignment of its business. In an internal memo out this week that has insiders fretting about layoffs, CEO Chuck Townsend said he would dedicate a team of people to work with the consulting firm as part of a hunt for “efficiencies” and revenue growth.

The folding of Men.Style.com into GQ.com also raises questions about the future of the company’s other destination brands, which include Epicurious.com, which is fed by content from Gourmet and Bon Appétit; and Style.com, the online hub of Vogue.

“It’s very hard to build a Web-only brand,” said Shelby Saville, senior vp, digital media director, Spark Communications. “If you have that [magazine] brand already, there’s no reason it should live in one medium. It was probably a disconnect for consumers to say, ‘I read GQ, so to get that information online I should go to Men.Style.com.’ If the GQ experiment is successful, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t do that for their other publications.”

Condé Nast Digital president Sarah Chubb said that since GQ is better known to advertisers than Men.Style.com, a standalone site will make it easier to sell integrated packages with print. “This is an ad revenue decision more than anything else,” she said.

The company’s other Web-only sites, meanwhile, stand on their own, she maintained. About 35 percent of the Men.Style.com audience is driven by its GQ section, whereas only about 10 percent of Style.com’s (much bigger) traffic comes from its Vogue section, for instance, she said.

“The men’s style brand was harder to create as a separate brand on its own,” she said. “Style.com, however, is a very strong brand. For advertisers it’s a similar demographic, so there’s an additional reach story, and it’s a fertile ground for looking for new subscribers.”