Etailers will win the lifestyle content race over publishers

Traditional publishers are at risk from big brands taking on the role of editor, says Styla CEO Philipp Rogge.

Philipp Rogge: It’s time publishers got their best frock on and came to the party
Philipp Rogge: It’s time publishers got their best frock on and came to the party

Of all the content you read this week, how much was published by independent editorial staff, and how much by brands hoping to sell you things? If you are anything like most people, the latter is occupying a larger and larger space on your media menu – and that could pose problems for traditional publishers.

Time was, magazines had the lifestyle editorial space all to themselves. Their business was selling ads, writing articles and features to place next to them. But, in an age where anyone can be a media company, retailers are fully embracing the opportunity to own their own content channels, to do their own marketing.

ASOS is renowned for not just being a fashion store but also a fashion magazine - the latter drives discovery of the former. Likewise, Net-a-Porter’s Porter paid-for magazine has become one of the lifestyle industry’s most revered fashion magazines. It feels rather like the brands magazines write about are taking on the role of editor themselves.

What is going on? For one, traditional marketing is waning - conventional display advertising, especially in digital, is losing its effectiveness as a driver of sales, forcing advertisers to take more control by crafting their own messages.

But brands’ growth comes at the same time as independent publishers’ contraction. The media industry has suffered terribly in recent years, as advertising money has moved to alternate, digital platforms.

Some publications have closed, others are shadows of their former selves. Of the editorial staff retail brands hire to produce their media efforts, a good number come from the kind of old-line magazines they are mimicking.

It’s no wonder there is a brain drain toward brands – legacy publishers often appear slow and unable to innovate quite like start-ups that come out of the gate like dedicated ecommerce operations, unencumbered by history. But losing staff to the enemy is like pouring oil on the fire.

Just as Net-a-Porter has morphed from etailer to publisher, it is no wonder, then, that Conde Nast is asking Vogue editor Anna Wintour to turn its website in to a shopping destination. After all, the media industry has the same opportunity in reverse: to leverage its editorial expertise to sell things.

Magazines that already have a large subscriber base should take confidence that they already count many consumers with credit card numbers on file, making it easier to buy products going forward.

The question remains, however: can traditional publishing houses adequately reinvent their working practices to not just sell products but make content in a form that fits the modern digital consumer?

When decides to produce content to illustrate its range, it shoots an entire catwalk video for every dress, super high-resolution images and 360-degree walkarounds. These are stories that add up to the kind of information overload people want nowadays, not just a one-column blurb before turning the page.

Traditional journalists from old-school publishers are good at many of these creative disciplines. Given the freedom to do so, they may well be able to translate them into the new world. But whether the fortunes of the industry surrounding them will allow them to is uncertain.

For the savvy, often urban consumers whom all of these publishers and operators hope to reach, the economics of media are already set toward free consumption and abundant social streams. They want bite-sized chunks of quick information, not eight-page profile interviews.

In the future, the operators with the best chance of survival will be the ones that can adapt fastest to dramatic changes. Those who refuse change will face serious problems. So it’s time publishers got their best frock on and came to the party.

Philipp Rogge is co-founder and CEO of content marketing service Styla

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