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The convergence of content and commerce

Written by Ian Garstang on 10 October 2012

With print advertising revenue on the decline year on year, publishers are looking for new and inventive ways to earn additional revenue. What started with affiliate links is now growing to include fully integrated ecommerce sites. This convergence could mean a change in the way people read magazine as well as a change to search engine results for gifts and products.

More and more examples can be seen across the internet. The women's magazine ‘Seventeen’ teamed up with Mulu to create a ‘Mulubox’ which was a footer widget at the base of the page which allowed visitors to purchase personally recommended products based on their browsing habits. This plug-in is soon to be rolled out to several of its sister websites over the coming months. Grant Whitmore, vice president of Hearst Digital Media, said “Offering our consumers the ability to browse the products they love as well as shop the pages of our sites is an important strategic imperative for 2012 and beyond.”

In this example the visitor is taken to the supplier’s website as an affiliate link and while this is nothing new, it does indicate the first stage of an ecommerce strategy.

In a bolder move the women’s shopping magazine ‘Lucky’ has taken things a stage further by bolting on a fully functioning ecommerce website. The magazine, which has seen a 15% decline in advertising revenue during the second quarter of 2012 is looking to bring the saving directly to the reader instead of telling them which stores are offering the best deals. Visitors to myluckymag.com can shop from a multitude of stores without leaving the site. The item list which is organised and chosen by the Lucky editors is much smaller but allows the magazine to earn roughly 3% to 15% of every sale.

Editor in Chief Ms Brandon Holley said “ What we are trying to do is give them the world of options” and that she hopes that the integrated shopping section will be a big part of their revenue stream in coming years. “There’s a huge opportunity for revenue and traffic growth,”

Many other big names have experimented in this area, most notably is the ongoing relationship between Vogue and Moda Operandi that allows readers to pre-order items from runway shows. Others, however, have met with less success: Esquire, which worked with J.C. Penny to create Cladmen.com which sold items from the magazine. This venture barely lasted three months before being shut down.

Obviously this new arrangement could lead to product bias on the publishers’ side due to the additional financial incentive but Ms Holley strongly suggested that they would avoid this, “For me, what would be a problem is if we were pushing things if we were making money,”. The fact that magazine sales is the core of their business and anything which might jeopardize the integrity of the publication would be avoided.

With more and more publishers exploring ecommerce as an additional revenue stream we could be seeing a convergence of shopping and reading - search engine results could show magazine websites in ‘product’ searches. These websites, which are already looked upon fondly by Google and Bing due to their mass of content and regular updating will now stock the product that people are searching for giving them an added advantage over regular ecommerce sites which have ‘lighter’ content.

This shift could also have detrimental effects to search engine rankings if not handled correctly. By adding a huge swathe of thin pages (product pages with a low amount of words) Google could see this as manipulation and penalise them with a lower pagerank. Similarly Google will show bias towards commercial or editorial sites, depending on whether a user is searching for products, or information.  If the line between the two becomes blurred then Google could have difficulty deciding when to serve which page.

Just as ecommerce sites bulk up their blog sections to jump on the content marketing bandwagon it will be very interesting to see how publishers leverage their wealth of content to break into the ecommerce market in order to rebalance revenue lost on advertising.

About the Author: Ian Garstang works at Kingsland Linassi, an award winning, Top 100 UK creative design agency. When not traversing the mystic world of search engine marketing he enjoys social media and quality website design.

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