Issue No. 252: 10 to Observe in Content and Commerce


She who controls supply and demand will rule the internet. Publishers are recognizing that they must become whole ecosystems to thrive and commerce is a key component (again).

The ‘content and commerce’ movement was supposedly dead when Ben Lerer (Thrillist) and Jason Ross (JackThreads) chose to part ways. With this failure (hint: it really wasn’t a failure), it emboldened many in publishing to proclaim that commerce didn’t work.

Across newsrooms, from coast to coast, many publishing executives ignored investing in eCommerce between 2014-2017. Affiliate marketing teams were prioritized over ad sales teams and as a result, well-written articles went from literary showcases to collages of products to purchase.  As ad sales continue to dwindle and affiliate sales remain on shaky ground, many of the healthiest digital publishers had a paradigm shift of sorts:

  • How do we gain independence from platforms like Facebook?
  • How do we hedge against falling ad sales and a weakening affiliate market?
  • How do we foster community within our readership?

For many non-subscription and subscription digitals alike, merchandising has been used to address each of these questions. By building community, publications become a destination. Digiday covered this phenomenon, “The story behind that New Yorker tote bag.”

The must-have signifier of urbane sophistication in 2017 wasn’t Yeezys or torn jeans. It was a tote bag that The New Yorker gives to new subscribers.

The bag itself isn’t new — it’s been a gift the glossy has given out since 2014 — but thanks to Donald Trump and an iconic design, the bag became a hit. The magazine’s marketing department has distributed over 500,000 of them to new subscribers and existing ones, who soon started asking for bags of their own.

Continue reading “Issue No. 252: 10 to Observe in Content and Commerce”

Issue No. 242: Openings and Closings

Here is a contrasting look at the retail properties that will be expanding and contracting over the next year.
Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 11.19.18 PM.png
Via Forbes

One of the things you’ll see on the chart above is that the list of stores opening this year is dominated by discount and convenience stores. (You might not recognize some of the names. Couche-Tard is the corporate owner of Circle K stores, and Aldi and Lidl are large European grocery chains that are expanding in the US.)

The data highlight changing lifestyles and tastes. Fashion is less important in physical retail stores. It’s being shopped for more and more online and it’s becoming less of a focus for younger consumers who are more willing to spend money on experiences than on fashion products.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 152: The Mainstreaming of Editorial eCommerce

Last Word: The Mainstreaming of editorial eCommerce

Or, how The New York Times can profit on The Wirecutter M&A in just a year. Affiliate commerce is nothing new but The Wirecutter’s outsized influence is a wakeup call to media sites who’ve depended on ad revenue for the last ten years of the internet. The Wirecutter drove nearly $150M in eCommmerce sales, netting $15M in revenue for the small, independently owned company. To understand why the NYT acquired the property and its potential, you’d have to understand the basic eCommerce mechanics behind it.

Here are a few facts and figures: (source: SimilarWeb Pro)

  1. drove 116.16M visits to their site in the last year.
  2. Amazon Links accounted for 59.26% of their outgoing traffic.
  3. That’s ~ 31,408,800 clicks to Amazon in the last year.
  4. 27.05% of all visitors clicked through to
  5. For every click to Amazon, The Wirecutter netted almost $.50 (that’s like printing money just by ginning up visitors).
  6. The typical Amazon margin falls between 5-15%.
  7. Their top advertisers in the last six months: Microsoft, Dell, Nike.
  8. The site’s 10M+ visitors per month drives $150M in eCommerce revenue per year.

The New York Times is in an enviable position. Unlike many in media, they have quite the leverage when it comes to B2B eCommerce. Without bolstering Wirecutter’s traffic at all, they have a nearly $135M delta to work with. That’s the difference between (1) Amazon’s top line revenue driven by The Wirecutter’s influence and (2) the commissions that Wirecutter earned for that influence. The New York Times can leverage their relative power to innovate within the editorial eCommerce space. That toaster that the Wirecutter will choose as the top pick for Christmas 2016? Why not just source the products themselves? Cutting out, i.e. The Washington Post’s benefactor. How so?

  1. Build a native eCommerce cart through Shopify and ditch their current, custom built eCommerce site.
  2. Easily integrate Amazon checkout at the cart, allowing customers to one-click pay for products no differently than they would had they done so through
  3. Source products directly from the vendor, cutting Amazon out as the middle man, while achieving margins far greater than 15%. Wholesale margins are up to 60% of MSRP.

Let’s say that the NYT built a small team to source the products featured in upcoming product reviews. This small division could be worth $65-82M in annual revenue, generating a 210+% return on investment ($30M) in just a single year.

Ben Thompson, via

Just as important, though, is that lovely business model: The Wirecutter is still small, on pace to generate ~ $15 million in revenue this year, but that’s a number that could jump substantially with the sort of exposure the New York Times could provide, particularly when pairing The Wirecutter recommendations with regular New York Times content. Lam previously noted on The Recode Media podcast (that link is time-stamped to the relevant portion) that previous experiments with The New York Times along these lines resulted in some of the highest traffic the New York Times has seen — and, presumably, some of the best revenue The Wirecutter has seen as well. Now the New York Times will reap the benefits, as well as the chance to adapt The Wirecutter’s approach to even more verticals. Given that newspaper advertising revenue is plummeting, said growth will come not a moment too soon.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 151: deep-learning in eCommerce

CB Insights on 60+ Startups That Are Enhancing A.I.


via CB Insights:

Deep learning in e-commerce was spotlighted recently by Etsy’s acquisition of Blackbird Technologies. Three startups in the private sector using AI in e-commerce raised funding rounds this year: Reflektion raised $18M in Q1’16 from investors including Intel Capital, Battery Ventures, and Marc Benioff; ViSenze raised $10.5M in Series B from investors including Rakuten Ventures, Enspire Capital, and Phillip Private Equity; India-based Staqu raised angel funds in Q2’16.

See more of the issue here.

Issue No. 93: Obstacles, decline, goals, and the reshaping of commerce’s future

Last Word: Apple’s Most Recent Patent Can Tell Us

In the last decade, we’ve watched ad dollars shift from print to digital, commerce shift from physical to digital (and then from desktop to mobile). We’ve watched quarterly reports that make mention of Facebook’s profit triple, quarter over quarter as 84% of all new revenue orinates from iOS and Android devices.

If you’re really bored, read Apple’s latest patent and how their new mobile ATM system (in iOS generations to come) will replace our direct relationship with Visa, MasterCard, and American Express – effectively reducing credit card companies to token service providers.

The first article of the day is on new generation of retail that has chosen to rely heavily upon online sales in order to own the relationships with consumers (versus distributing through brick and mortar and passing along ownership to the physical retailer). We are watching more and more financial and consumer operations occur within the confines of our mobile devices and as the consolidation of those data driven operations continue, the value of digital-first eCommerce brands and the marketing / digital PR / and media associated with them will increase with it.

The appeal of DNVB’s wasn’t direct to market ease, it was a deeper understanding of each and every client. And how to reach more of them more efficiently than the old guard of media and commerce.

See more of the issue here.