Traditionally, publishers were limited in pursuing two time-tested avenues to revenue: selling subscriptions and/or advertising. But lately, content commerce strategies like in-text advertising and sponsored content have come of age, providing the potential to change the digital content dynamic and excite publishers that are struggling to remain relevant to readers and users.
Two recent examples are ShopThis and ShopBazaar.com. The former is a partnership between MasterCard and Condé Nast-publishers of Vanity Fair, Vogue, The New Yorker and other popular magazines-whereby readers (initially, users of the November tablet edition of Wired) will be able to instantly buy products they read about in the issue's articles and ads without ever leaving the page. Simply click on the product, put it in your shopping cart and check out; the order is then fulfilled by Rakuten.com. The latter is a special branded content site created last year by Hearst, for Harper's Bazaar, that enables readers to buy products featured in the magazine.
While some critics are concerned that these tactics blur the lines between advertising and editorial and further compromise journalistic integrity, others believe they are smart, innovative and, in many cases, necessary for survival.
"Monetizing content in a new way that sells items within articles that are related to that content is a very natural fit for publishers and a great concept," says Alex Withers, general manager for digital business, media, and entertainment at Attivio. "It's about putting the right content in front of the right user at the right time and on the right device-in other words, good timing and good targeting. And if you can effectively distribute that right content, that increases the relevance of the product within the article."
Scott Cooper, founder and CEO of ShopAdvisor, says readers are looking for a simple solution that connects them to the products they see and want in the publications they read, "and as long as the solution works, publishers will be able to maintain that ongoing reader relationship and uphold reader trust."
Cooper says there are several goals for a successful click-to-buy content strategy.
"The first is to provide readers with a valuable service they didn't otherwise have, which can increase readership loyalty," says Cooper. "The second is to measure what publishers and advertisers have never been able to-intent. By introducing a level of interactivity across print and digital that wasn't available before, the industry is finally able to connect with readers prior to purchase."
Cliff Conneighton, senior vice president of Hybris, believes that, while e-commerce strategies like ShopThis are a good idea, publishers can further maximize their monetization potential. "I would think about how I would sell my own products, including past articles and relevant content, not just someone else's products," says Conneighton. "For example, imagine you're reading an article about the island of St. Thomas in Conde Nast Traveler. Your tablet can pop up a St. Thomas vacation package offer, but what if it also provided an opportunity to buy a ‘Guide to the Caribbean' ebook that Conde Nast had already created? Publishers need to experiment more, move faster, and monetize the trust they have with their readers."
Additionally, if you're going to sell products within the actual page, "why not cut out the middleman and be the merchant of record yourself instead of passing off the link and order capture to someone else? That way, you can make a better margin on the sale and have the opportunity to cross-sell and upsell to your customer," says Conneighton.
However, just because you can sell a product online "doesn't mean it's the holy grail for publishers," says Withers. "You've got to have enough merchants and a depth of product catalog with your vendors so that you're relevant to people across a variety of articles and content. If you only have a limited number of the same items you keep promoting in your content, it will quickly become a very frustrating and unrewarding experience for users and you'll lose readers."
The moral to the ever-changing e-commerce story for digital content providers is to embrace industry innovation and listen when opportunities like ShopThis come along, says Withers. He adds, "Don't sit there thinking that the advertising and subscription model will be the only way to make money."
(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)