Why are retailers publishing paid-subscription magazines?

Sources: Net-a-Porter; Away
Jan 02, 2019
Tom Ryan

In a recent column for Wired, Federico Marchetti, CEO of YOOX Net-a-Porter, explained that the luxury e-tailer publishes its subscription magazine, Porter, in print because retail content is integral to combining online and offline worlds.

“Selling has always been about storytelling — a model known as C2C, or content-to-commerce,” Mr. Marchetti wrote. “This is what I had in mind when l created YOOX in 1999 as an ‘entertailer’: part etailer and part entertainer. And over the years we have developed many content collaborations — from work with Margherita Missoni and Malcolm McLaren to projects such as enabling consumers to shop directly via showings of Nick Knight’s Fashion Film.”

The “power of C2C” may be evident in the fact that the magazine’s subscribers have become the retailer’s biggest spenders. Mr. Marchetti added, “Combining content and commerce is the way to excite customers.”

Porter’s annual subscription (six issues) costs $25.

Another believer in retail content is Jen Rubio, chief-brand officer of the luggage start-up, Away. In 2017, Away launched Here, a quarterly travel magazine available in print ($10 an issue) and online (free) with an in-house editorial team.

Ms. Rubio told Social Media Week, “It actually came about, in part, because our customers had come to really trust our guidance on everything related to travel — so much so that they were calling our customer service line to ask for suggestions ahead of an upcoming trip! So we saw an opportunity to continue to connect with our customers in a way that provides tangible value.”

Subscription print magazines are also being published by Dollar Shave Club, bed-in-a-box pioneer Casper, MyTheresa.com (the Munich-based luxury e-tailer acquired by Neiman Marcus in 2014) and Hodinkee (seller of high-end wristwatches).

Adam Alter, associate professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business, told Adweek, “Today, the quickest way to establish your brand is often by sharing content, by producing stand-alone content in the form of blog posts and images that are curated to showcase your brand, so it appeals to the consumers you’re targeting.”

Many retailers now offer free content online and have added magazines at a time when Glamour, Teen Vogue, Self, Seventeen and Redbook have ended their print publications.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What’s driving retailers to publish print magazines and the C2C (content-to-commerce) trend in general? What advice would you have for retailers deciding whether to offer free or paid content?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"It's not about trust in a brand from the old 'quality' perspective. It's about trust that a brand will be a helpful partner in the consumer's lifestyle goals."
"“Some people like analog things” is not content strategy. Centering your customer’s needs in all things is a better start..."
"In our digital and almost paperless world, it’s clear that publishing print magazines is a way to distinguish yourselves from the competition."

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16 Comments on "Why are retailers publishing paid-subscription magazines?"

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Shep Hyken

The idea of content marketing is not new. The idea of moving it from digital to physical/print is a way to stand out. Taking it to the next level is to charge for the subscription. Smart retailers will offer their premium customers the subscription at no charge. If the content is valuable, it will be read. And print magazines are kept (in view) and returned to. As Mr. Marchetti was quoted in the article, “combining content and commerce is the way to excite customers.”

Bob Amster

This concept should appeal more to the upscale market. I think we can agree that three factors enter the equation. First, by charging a subscription fee, the retailer can recover some of the costs of expensive print media. Second, by charging a subscription fee for a really good-quality magazine, the retailer provides an air of exclusivity and desirability to the magazine. Third, and simplest, some people just like to leaf through magazines more than thumb-scrolling through small-screen smartphones. (I do.)

Nikki Baird

I think the operative word here is “trust” — as Ms. Rubio comments, that Away’s customers trust them for guidance on all things travel. Products alone aren’t enough to generate trust these days — it’s not about trust in a brand from the old “quality” perspective. It’s about trust that a brand will be a helpful partner in the consumer’s lifestyle goals. That’s a whole other thing. And putting out a high-production value magazine is a pretty asset-intensive way of saying, “See? I’m really dedicated to this.”

Phil Rubin
13 days 19 hours ago

Custom publishing — what a concept! Paid subscription magazines are not a new model — even if it’s called “C2C” now. While not all custom publishing has utilized paid subscriptions, has anyone heard of in-flight magazines? Or more specific to retail, Neiman Marcus’ “The Book”?

That said, the retailers employing this strategy are smart in that they recognize that selling goods is indeed about storytelling. J. Peterman anyone?

It’s not surprising that a retailer’s best customers are also paying that retailer for its content. Best customers do all the things that brands offer them to consume and exchange value. That’s part of how a “best customer” is defined, beyond simply revenues per customer.

Brandon Rael

In our digital and almost paperless world, it’s clear that publishing print magazines is a way to distinguish yourselves from the competition. We are now so accustomed to disregarding print advertisements, however, if there is the right level of intriguing content, Federico Marchetti, and the Yoox Net-a-Porter Group may just have the right strategy with their subscription magazine.

Just as Instagram has become a ubiquitous connector between brands and customers in the digital world, perhaps taking the bold steps of bridging the physical and digital worlds with a printed magazine is the way to go. This may just resonate with customers as they seek refuge from the relentless digital connectedness.

Amazon took the bold step of publishing a toy catalog this past holiday, so we should expect retailers and brands to take a more serious stance on publishing relevant content across both physical and digital media channels.

Jennifer McDermott

While building content is an imperative exercise for brands to build authority, only very few retailers could get away with charging for it. It would take testing, and there would need to be a strong value proposition as doing so without the right content would not only be a costly waste of time, but could actually impact sales by turning customers off altogether.

Joanna Rutter
13 days 18 hours ago

Testing is key. Putting out paid content says: “We’re betting we understand what you want.” If you’re wrong, you break that trust.

Joanna Rutter
13 days 19 hours ago

“Some people like analog things” is not content strategy. Centering your customer’s needs in all things is a better start — for example, Away’s customer is buying a suitcase or bag as a means to a lifestyle end, and their content is also aligned with that end, hence, a travel magazine. I don’t think the distribution method or price is as important (in Here‘s case, the magazine is available online and in print, and the online content is free) as the content itself, which equips their customer to accomplish their goals.

Jasmine Glasheen

What better way to establish a brand as a category leader, than to have customers pay a small fee for access to the company’s expertise?

With that said, print content needs to be both unique and visually appealing to justify the purchase cost… and the written content being sold can’t be stuff that customers can find online (in cases where the online catalogue is free, the print magazine needs high enough image quality to double as a coffeetable book to give it a solid value proposition).

Peter Fader

This is a very promising trend — and I hope it doesn’t stop with print magazines. It’s a great way to get retailers to change their mindsets from being “sellers of stuff” towards being “builders of meaningful, multi-faceted relationships with select customers.” Or, in other words, the shift from product- to customer-centricity. This is vitally important for retailers to master — not just a box to check in order to keep up with their rivals.

Cathy Hotka

In a world of unlimited choices, curation is all-important. This is an area where brands and retailers can really stand out and create genuine, lasting relationships. From grocery stores publishing recipe magazines to lifestyle suggestions on Pinterest, customers value this information and will want to engage further.

Ralph Jacobson

Brand awareness in whichever channel you can capture it is well worth the effort. I am not certain how long print periodicals with thrive, however, online content is critical to drive the loyalty that brings brand value.

Bob Phibbs

Interesting that on the front page of the Washington Post was this article: Women’s magazines are dying. Will we miss them when they’re gone?. Maybe this niche of niche content marketing has legs, or maybe it’s just another attempt to stand out in a crowded market. I could see many people wanting to buy the lifestyle for $10 or $20 a year yet never buy anything — but that, ultimately, is the point.

David Naumann

Passionate brand enthusiasts have an emotional connection with certain brands and these are the brands that have an opportunity to enhance this connection with a print magazine. It is a great way to offer new product ideas, uses for products or advice on related topics. When consumers love and trust a brand, they will appreciate the ideas and opinions shared by the brand.

Cate Trotter

I think it’s a desire to stand out and to be seen as having a value beyond just the physical store/website. If you can get someone to pay to interact with you, such as receiving your magazine, then you’re onto a good thing. It’s not wonder that Porter’s biggest spenders are its subscribers. They’ve invested in the brand above and beyod the average customer.

Obviously this strategy wouldn’t necessarily work for every retailer, but for those selling higher-end or luxury products it may serve as that ongoing mark of quality.

That said the content needs to stack up. If like Away your customers trust you as an expert in your field and you can feed that with the right information and inspiration then that’s a recipe for success.

Chuck Palmer
Our desire to engage and have meaningful interactions has only increased as we have access to unlimited and (perceived to be free) content. It makes sense that generalized publications are seeing the end of their print runs. One of the key reasons these publications makes sense is their business model. It’s a redirection of marketing spend into evidence-based (data) investment. It makes enormous sense that a brand like Away would do a magazine about travel. It would be a great way to test customer response to new products and offers, it keeps them coming back in between purchases and if they can find a voice with wide enough appeal, reach customers they hadn’t before. Do they continue to buy ads in Conde Nast Traveler and Afar? Maybe. Until their publication starts taking readers away? I find it interesting that the reverse seldom really hits big. That is, a publication creating retail products. I think Real Simple and Martha Stewart continue to crank out the merch, but when Esquire offers dress shirts and cologne? Uh, no… Read more »
"It's not about trust in a brand from the old 'quality' perspective. It's about trust that a brand will be a helpful partner in the consumer's lifestyle goals."
"“Some people like analog things” is not content strategy. Centering your customer’s needs in all things is a better start..."
"In our digital and almost paperless world, it’s clear that publishing print magazines is a way to distinguish yourselves from the competition."

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