Here’s one of the more interesting trends in magazine media: The creation—especially in the last 12 to 18 months—of a proliferation of non-branded websites by major magazine companies with well-established mega brands.
Before that, in September, it launched The Drive, which is devoted to cars and car culture, following August’s Campus Rush, covering college football. Then there’s Motto, for millennial women, launched by Time last February.
Hearst is an old hand at doing this. It launched Delish.com in 2008, and has launched or acquired many more, including TheDailyGreen.com, MisQuinceMag.com, eCrush Network, Kaboodle.com, RealAge.com and Answerology.com. Most of these have been since sold or discontinued. Last year, it launched a shopping site called BestProducts and a Snapchat channel called Sweet.
Another pioneer here is New York Magazine. It launched a tech site called SelectAll in April, but that’s just the most recent. It also has The Cut, Grub Street, Daily Intelligencer and Vulture.
This isn’t just a trend, it’s a craze. It’s almost like the current craft-beer craze. And in some ways, Hearst, Time Inc., New York are a parallel to Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller Brewing when they roll out non-branded craft-beer variations.
So why? If magazine media executives are so bullish on the power of their multi-generation brands, why are they creating so many new websites that are unrelated to their iconic existing brands?
I think there are several reasons. One is ad inventory. More traffic equals more inventory, and more sales revenue. SI, for example, or various Hearst brands, get additional ad capacity by creating spinoff brands and selling advertising as a bundle.
They also attract new audiences—Millennials might be more likely to engage with, say, Campus Rush, than SI.
And ultimately, these non-branded sites represent potential for traditional brands. If millennial users of the new brands are exposed to the parent brands, some portion of them will become loyal readers and subscribers.
That’s my take.
But I also asked Time Inc. and Hearst about it, to get a sense of what’s behind this.
Here’s Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media: “We look for what we perceive to be opportunities in the market, finding communities and creating brands that resonate with a unique point of view and truly addictive content. Our platform, MediaOS, is incredibly flexible, and it allows us to get a site up and running in a very compressed timeframe. It also shows us what’s working in real time, so we can iterate as needed. As an example, Delish was built in a matter of months and has been live for a little over a year. In that time, we’ve built a passionate and growing audience of 10.2 million—a nearly 400 percent increase—with video views at more than 275 million.”
And here’s Jen Wong, president of Time Inc. Digital: “Time Inc. is focused on engagement with users and marketers, particularly in mobile. We want to be wherever users are, in the native formats, and present fresh ideas and talent that grab their attention. Instant and Extra Crispy are examples of tailored delivery mechanisms for super serving specific audiences, and enabling ad partners to access these audiences. Our strategy is to do this on every platform, and in every format: messaging, social, TV.
Last year, Min asked New York Magazine Digital Editor Ben Williams for his take. “We’ve been doing verticals since the early days of the website,” he said. “One of the appeals of that is to create distinct brands, you don’t really have to know that it has anything to do with New York Magazine. Some people know and some people don’t and we’re fine either way. What’s happened over the years, especially in the case with Vulture and The Cut, is we’ve seen big opportunities in terms of both audience and business and so we’ve grown those into sites unto themselves.
“The Web rewards obsession,” Williams said. “When people are into something, they can’t get enough of it and there’s no lack of space on the Internet so you can give them all the information they could possibly want on a certain topic and really go deep. All of our verticals are really tied to things that were already strengths in the magazine but we’ve been able to take those online and really blow them out.”
But I thought John Loughlin, current CEO of Texture and at the time EVP of Hearst Magazines, said it well way back in 2009.
Hearst has had great success with a growing network of non-magazine-branded Web sites, which drive massive traffic back to the magazine sites, Loughlin said in a speech at the Primex Conference. And non-branded sites helped build a huge e-mail address database that grew from 3 million to 25 million in 2008. “We feel that each e-mail address is worth 80 cents to our business,” he said. What’s more, he said then, in 2008, the company generated 2.2 million subscriptions online, making it the top circulation source. “And the cost is one-fourth to one-tenth of a mail-driven subscription.”
Final note. Meredith is one big company that opts not to create new brands and offshoots. "We haven’t really done a lot of this," said a Meredith spokesman. "Our focus has been on infusing our existing digital brands with content that will engage with millennials, such as videos on our Eating Well site that have gone viral and generated literally tens of millions of views. Our strategy is more about using our reach with millennials (we reach three out of four millennial women across our brand platforms), by creating content that resonates with them and what matters to them."