No. 279: The Appeal of Independents

facebook-ad

While overall advertising revenues for print magazines continue to decrease, the real story is the increasing number of well-received independents. You know these magazines when you see them. They are wider and heavier than most, the paper is of higher quality, and the photography has a common theme throughout. In these publications, the magazines’ creative teams determines the artistic direction; it’s not the brands’ direction. This means a more natural feel with a greater connection to the reader.

These publications feel more like books than magazines and the price reflects that: they range between $10-25 per issue.

The savviest of these publishers are sidestepping the mistakes of previous era of print publishing. This new generation of print magazines aren’t merely media vehicles that are built to support a bloated advertising payroll. These magazines are brand statements and loyalty builders. But most importantly, they are the break from the digital economy that we all seem to be craving.

The Data

Screen Shot 2018-07-23 at 9.24.34 AM
Magazine advertising will continue dropping (2018-2020).
Screen Shot 2018-07-23 at 9.26.24 AM
Major media estimates for 2018: magazines ranked third from bottom.
Screen Shot 2018-07-23 at 9.26.46 AM
Magazine advertising revenue is set to fall over the next two years.

Conventional publishing houses like Hearst and Conde Nast are increasing investments into digital properties as traditional print advertising falters. But independent publishers are taking a counter cultural approach to business. The Guardian just recently published a timely article on the independent publishing craze here:

Magazines espousing the counter-cultural idea of “slow journalism”, such as Ernest or Delayed Gratification (which was founded in 2011 to review news events “after the dust has settled”, has 5,000 subscribers and a print readership of 24,000), are funded by fairly expensive subscription charges. Ernest starts at £21.50 for two issues a year, while Delayed Gratification costs £36 for an annual subscription of four issues.

Whether they prioritise elegant looks or go for a samizdat-like underground style, they all share the appeal of the tactile experience of printed paper. “It is hard to say why people buy them. But the magazines are usually run and read by people who are enjoying the fact they have a voice and a place to go,” said Catterall. Read more.


IMG_2815
Issue No. 6: Gear Patrol.

Independent magazines have taken on a new role as home to more than a readership. These publications are cultivating consumer-driven communities away from the world wide web. Here are ten of the notables:

Monocle. $14. Winnipeg, Canada. The magazine launched on in 2007, By 2014, Tyler Brûlé sold a sizable minority stake in Monocle magazine to Nikkei Inc. It is reported that the company was valued at $115M at the time of the investment. Read more.

Darling. $20. Los Angeles, California. In 2009, the magazine’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief Sarah Dubbeldam and her husband Steve Dubbeldam created Darling. After starting off as a blog, the first print issue arrived in fall 2012. The magazine proudly embraces women of different ethnicities and body types. Read more.

Gear Patrol. $20. New York, New York. In 2014, founders Ben Bowers and Eric Yang launched the first magazine. GP is an award-winning digital, social and print publication that reaches nearly two million young, affluent men. The creative direction by Andrew Haynes has elevated the Gear Patrol brand to new levels. Read more.

Highsnobiety. $10. New York, New York. A publication covering forthcoming trends and news in fashion, art, music, and culture, all on one platform. Highsnobiety has steadily built a strong brand in the online fashion and lifestyle world. Today the blog and print magazine sit among the most visited global sources for inspiration in the areas of fashion, sneakers, music, art and lifestyle culture. Read more.

Uncrate. $15. Columbus, Ohio. A publisher for men, the bi-annual magazine features what to buy and how much it costs. Read more.

Cherry Bombe. $20. The magazine celebrates women and food through a biannual magazine. The book shares the stories of everyone from industry icons to notable newcomers, encouraging creativity in the kitchen. Read more.

Suitcase. $25. London, England. The magazine exists to change the way you travel: from where to go to how to pack. It’s for travel insiders, not tourists. Read more.

Raquet. $15. New York, New York. Racquet is a quarterly magazine that celebrates the art, ideas, style and culture that surround tennis. Read more.

Franchise. $20. New York, New York. A premium print publication dedicated to global basketball culture. The team consists of a group of players, artists and writers. The magazine documents the stories, characters and ideas that shape the game we love. Read more.

Here. $10. New York, New York. Away is a company on a mission and their latest project falls within this category. A well-produced, independent magazine that leans more on brand equity than advertising revenue. Steph Korey and Jen Rubio are the latest brand executives to turn their product into an escape for their readers. Read more.

Traditional publishing has been plagued by pay-for-play influence and an excessive approach to advertising sales and placements. Does anyone else ignore the first 20 pages of advertising? For brands that are looking to grow along with impassioned, independent audiences, this is the class of publishers that are truly making an impact for retailers.

Legacy magazine publishers focused on building a readership that advertisers would pay for. Independent publishers focus on building a product that consumers will pay for. Brand partnerships with independent publishers can reveal a smaller-yet-primed audience that can supplement performance marketing efforts. In the last two years, we’ve seen similar efforts launched by eCommerce brands: Airbnb, Hodinkee, and GOOP.

As traditional advertising and product placement continues to attract DNVB brands, you can expect to see more partnerships in this space. And more brand-funded magazines that mirror the quality of independent publishing.

Read more of the issue here.

By Web Smith | About 2PM 

Issue No. 271: A Modern Luxury Update

facebook-ad copy 4

There is a famous scene in The Social Network where Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of Sean Parker tells Jesse Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg contemporary the story of the Victoria’s Secret rebirth. In the script, it was Sean Parker that explained the genius of Les Wexner and his ability to change with the times after acquiring the $6 million / year business for a fraction of its real value, only to turn it into a $500 million dollar brand just four years later. The brand grew from four to nearly 100 stores in that short amount of time. It was a historic turnaround for a brand that was more niche than it was main street at the time.

The fundamentals of the brick and mortar lingerie business changed because Wexner emphasized the appeal of the brand to female consumers. He set aside the money-losing model of selling lingerie to men and replaced it with one that focused on female customers. But more importantly, he recognized that it should have been that way all along. It was an authentic move that evolved Victoria’s Secret (and its parent company: L Brands) into the $10 billion dollar company that it is today. But the brand is overdue for another shift. And it’s worth considering the recent hires and acquisitions by Wal-Mart to turn L Brands‘ most valuable ship around.

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 3.23.27 PM

Now led by CEO Jan Singer (former CEO of Spanx and Global VP at Nike), Victoria’s Secret cites the lingerie icon’s struggles on corporate restructuring, ending the famous catalog, and exiting the swimwear category. These are contributing factors, in addition to increasing pressure from eCommerce-first retailers.

The growing competition is promoting more variety in models and products. Now in its fifth year, online retailer ThirdLove has shoppers answer a series of intimate questions about their breasts — which of these nine illustrations matches your breast shape? — while reassuring consumers that every woman’s body is unique. The company has raised $13.6 million from investors and expects to double its sales this year. Companies like Adore Me, True&Co. and Everlane are taking a similar approach.

Business of Fashion

Their chief challenger, Adore Me (21) was founded in 2010 with the express intent to challenge Victoria’s Secret by giving consumers an online-first, inclusive alternative to the lingerie titan. The latest Inc. 5000 list has Adore Me’s growing 1,400% from 2014 and 2016 with revenues exceeding $100 million. Now, Adore Me is looking to expand offline and the timing couldn’t be worse for the L Brands subsidiary.

Niche players may only have a small share compared to Victoria’s Secret, but their innovative approaches mean they are nibbling away at its market share.

GlobalData Retail Managing Director Neil Saunders 

In addition to intimates brands expanding into VS’ territory, there are adjacent pressures from the athleisure market, an evolving beauty market, and the rejection of lingerie by consumers looking for comfort, function, and individuality. Rather than continue competing against the likes of Adore Me (21), THINX, Inc. (31), and Third Love (51), Victoria’s Secret could re-invest in the brand by following Wal-Mart’s lead.

Making a strategic acquisition to evolve Victoria’s Secret’s prized retail real estate could be just what the forty-year old retail property needs. The brand has a history of retail innovation. In addition to Wexner’s early decision to rebrand the shopping experience, Victoria’s Secret was one of the first brand’s to invest in early eCommerce (1999). In a recent retail roundtable, it was proposed that L Brands execute a Lore-like acquisition to oversee the brand’s eCommerce and omni-channel experience.

In addition, an interesting pivot was discussed. Victoria’s Secret could house brands and content across beauty, women’s athleisure, and intimates. The express goal would be to rebuild Victoria’s Secret as the premiere women’s-only destination – a house of brands, with their VS namesake positioned as the most premium offering within the store.

DD dan 1 relja 205
Lean Luxe Founder, Paul Munford

In a conference call with Lean Luxe’s Paul Munford, he added, “Not every brand deserves to exist forever.” He also added that L Brands‘ recent track record has been less than favorable, making the idea of a pivot like this highly unlikely. Specifically, he cited the $710 million dollar La Senza acquisition (2006) that did not achieve the intended effect. According to Munford, there was no indication that the retail group could operate with the same speed and precision that Wal-Mart has since Marc Lore became their eCommerce CEO. Munford added, “With Lore coming in at Wal-Mart, there wasn’t a negative track record of Walmart acquiring brands and dropping the ball. Walmart just started from scratch. So comparatively, Victoria’s Secret’s task seems harder.” 

Though Munford and I disagreed on the approach that the vaunted L Brands subsidiary should take, we did agree that VS is a brand that is long overdue for a modern luxury update. One of the first names that arose when discussing who’d be a great number two to Jan Singer was Emily Weiss, founder of Glossier.

Read more of the issue here.

By Web Smith and Meghan Terwilliger | About 2PM

Member Brief No. 1: Linear Commerce

facebook-ad

This brief is an example of 2PM’s member-only content package. Learn more at the bottom.

Linear commerce. If you’ve built a great product, you’ll need an audience. And if you’ve built a captive audience, you’ll need a great product. Here’s a timely tweet by Founder Collective’s Director of Content. Notably, the three biggest areas of focus for eCommerce executives revolved around influence.

1452052107167

Businesses in the digital economy want to exist along a line, not a point. A point marks a position in space. In pure geometric terms, a point is a pair of x, y, or z coordinates. It has no mass at all. If two lines intersect, they form this point.  Outside of that point, little else is defined. For the sake of this metaphor, a point of intersection lacks commerce significance because the two lines (x = product and y = media) are missing the breadth (or in another measure: critical mass). In geometry, a point can be insignificant and most often it is.

A plane is a flat surface extending in height and width. This plane has breadth.  So when two planes intersect, the intersecting planes form a line. And a line is an infinite series of points (i.e. opportunity). In this metaphor, a line represents the content x commerce goal of many businesses in today’s digital economy. Even companies like Airbnb are operating along two planes. The goal? A captive audience that is in tune with your product offering.

This is how I see content x commerce. Building a breadth of influence in supply and demand may be a requisite for success in this new digital economy. There are examples of this all around us. But there are few that understand this space better than the Jenner / Kardashian family.

Most young companies operate at a point, lacking breadth in the planes of content influence or product commerce. But some businesses covered in today’s member brief have achieved that proverbial line. And when Kylie Jenner tweeted this (whether she knew it or not), she was essentially stating that a proponent of her influence plane (i.e. Snapchat) was losing its breadth.

Reducing Kylie Jenner to a young reality star is short-sighted here.  She’s the 100% owner of two very sizable Shopify Plus-enabled eCommerce brands, including a top 50 store in the beauty CPG space. Kylie Cosmetics may be the crown jewel of Brand Value Accelerator’s portfolio of eCommerce clients. And rightly so, the brand was rumored to earn upwards of $400,000,000 in 2017.

kylie-twitter

It’s that proverbial line that represents an optimization of publishing influence and product offering. In many ways, the aforementioned Jenner embodies that line. It’s this optimization that many product-based brands and publishing-based outlets attempt to accomplish. While it’s easier to discount the collective from which she belongs, that family understands that content and commerce balance like few others.

At press time, Kylie Jenner is the eighth most followed person on Instagram and of equal or greater import on Snapchat. For more conventional commerce businesses, those two channels have proven to be to two of the most powerful sales drivers. Here’s a look at how powerful of a content generator she is:

Via TechCrunch:

Kylie Jenner is just about as influential a celebrity as they come; many of the product advances of social media companies like Snap have been borne on the backs on influencers like Jenner, who have hundreds of millions of followers across these platforms that she uses to push her makeup products and lifestyle onto culture.

Via Bloomberg:

Shares of the Snapchat parent company sank 6.1 percent on Thursday, wiping out $1.3 billion in market value, on the heels of a tweet on Wednesday from Kylie Jenner, who said she doesn’t open the app anymore. Whether it’s the demands of her newfound motherhood, or the recent app redesign, the testament drew similar replies from her 24.5 million followers. 

Via CNBC:

Sanchez noted that Jenner’s comment speaks to the demographics of its users, which could put the stock in hot water. “[But] of course the group that uses it, which is the 18- to 24-year-olds, they’re going to hate that. They have the attention span of a gnat,” she added. “I think it’s going to be challenging because they’re going to have to move into an older group and I’m not sure that’s going to work. I think that’s a risk.

As these member briefs continue, we’ll discuss more instances of these concepts with practical examples.


Rapha is at center stage again. This time, as a great example of  why brands build belonging. The cycling brand understands that when you buy a brand, you’re choosing a club. The paradox in merchandising success is that depth of audience matters more than size of audience. Brands / publishers have traffic, very few have captive audiences.

The smartest brands are focusing on customer retention, lifetime value, and consumer happiness by investing in community. And it’s this type of belonging that keeps you coming back.

Fast Company: Why would a for-profit brand put so much work into building belonging? The simple answer is because of the deep brand loyalty it engenders and the commercial opportunities it creates.

The longer answer is: The commercial opportunity exists because we need belonging at a fundamental level . We have a crisis of belonging–and great brands will step into the vacuum created by social isolation.


Airbnb is moving upstream and into more traditional hotel servicing, this includes traditional loyalty programs. This makes sense as the brand is extremely valuable and traditional real estate will help them to sidestep regulatory worries in certain markets (i.e. New York City).

The Verge: As part of the overall push to higher-end accommodations, Airbnb plans to introduce a luxury tier that is more expensive than Airbnb Plus, called Airbnb Beyond. The company plans to launch the tier in the spring, using the expertise and resources gained by its acquisition of Luxury Retreats last year. Airbnb Beyond will include “custom-designed trips of a lifetime” at the “world’s finest homes, custom experiences, and world-class hospitality.

Let’s give credit to CB Insights for this November 2017 gem:

Airbnb Select homes are inspected by the company and cosmetically improved. Both efforts come as part of a broader push to improve the company’s accommodation inventory.

As of now, it is unclear whether Airbnb Lux will be integrated into the core Airbnb platform or continue to live in the Luxury Retreats property. Both options come with risks, and the former could possibly alienate Luxury Retreats’ core user group, muddy its branding, and (if non-exclusive listings were included) forfeit the platform’s exclusivity.


eCommerce: Porsche moves towards an online retailing future. Given that their first electric design debuts in 2019, this could be another signal that the high-end market is adjusting to Tesla’s online-first style of business by adapting to it themselves.


Retail real estate: Amazon is in the brick and mortar business for several reasons and here are the most important ones:

  • serendipity
  • honing retail technology as IP to license to other retailers (AWS 2.0?)
  • building loyalty
  • driving Amazon Prime sign-ups

Recode: Amazon spent four years crafting a system — dubbed Just Walk Out Technology — that allows shoppers to scan their phone upon entrance, grab desired items off a shelf, and automatically get charged the right amount after exiting without the need to stop at a cash register to pay. (Here’s a photo tour of the first Amazon Go store.)


Lean Luxe is the industry-leading modern luxury publication. The indie media company is also 2PM’s go-to for perspectives on modern luxury companies (MLC) and how they appeal directly to the consumer. This short interview was done by Hero, a company at the intersection of eCommerce and physical retail.

When you listen to this short interview on innovative MLC brands consider that incumbent brands are taking pages from their playbooks to stay relevant. While Jeff Bezos is no stranger to the credit of retail innovation, consider Amazon’s brick and mortar strategy through the lens of what these young, innovative brands are doing to reshape efficient commerce. Does this tried and true MLC physical retail strategy sound familiar:

The store is going to be used less as a major point of sale and more as a showroom and physical place for these online brands to present their brand in a physical way. 

M. Paul Munford, Editor-in-Chief of Lean Luxe 


Glossier is the type of direct to consumer brand that keeps incumbent CEO’s up at night. It is also a great example of the linear commerce.

TechCrunch: The New York-based company — which evolved out of the popular blog Into the Gloss by founder and CEO Emily Weiss — began selling its own make-up at the outset but has more recently added body and fragrance products, too, bringing its total number of offerings to 22. One of the company’s most popular products is a mascara-like eyebrow filler called Boy Brow. Among its newest: a solid version of its fragrance, You.

Let’s look at Glossier’s two sites in January 2018: a) influence plane and b) commerce plane

A) IntoTheGloss.com

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 10.38.14 PM

B) Glossier.com

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 10.38.40 PM

Digiday:For example, Glossier has noticed a frequent customer behavioral pattern: An Into the Gloss reader will open an article on mobile, click a link to shop a Glossier product mentioned in the article, add it to the mobile cart and then move to desktop to finish the transaction. It’s now using its new database to follow that pattern, and link the user across sites on both mobile and desktop.

Glossier / Into The Gloss has achieved that proverbial line, the result of two planes intersecting to form infinite opportunity. Glossier is operating similarly to Kylie Cosmetics, but in a way that could be more sustainable for the well-funded D2C brand.

The majority of Glossier’s influence referral comes from their blog while the majority of Kylie Cosmetic’s influence referral traffic comes from Jenner’s Instagram and Youtube accounts. While Jenner’s influence is currently stronger, Glossier owns their influence plane.

By. Web Smith, 2PM

These briefs will be part of a members-only email, curated and delivered each Friday. You can subscribe to executive membership here.