Is print the secret weapon for luxury brands?

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Macleod Smith: "We realized we need to give our readers their fashion fix in print as well as in digital’."
Macleod Smith: "We realized we need to give our readers their fashion fix in print as well as in digital’."

Net-a-Porter's bimonthly magazine -- with shoppable content -- just turned one. How is its new business model changing fashion shopping?

LONDON — Tess Macleod Smith, vice president of publishing and media at Net-a-Porter, peers through her iPhone 6 to look at a picture of Cate Blanchett on the cover of the winter edition. She is demonstrating the unique shoppable content available through Porter, launched globally with much fanfare as a bimonthly glossy magazine by the fashion retailer one year ago.

She opens the Net-a-Porter app and scans the cover. After tapping on an icon that hovers over Blanchett’s dress, up pops information about the Miu Miu pleated, draped chiffon number, priced at £1,745 ($2,655). One click of another icon allows her to drop it into the "shopping bag."

"If you are in London, New York or Hong Kong, you’ll get that dress in about three hours’ time – we do same-day delivery," Macleod Smith explains.

Net-a-Porter took many by surprise when it launched Porter last year, offering shoppable content on every page. Was it just another customer magazine or a real attempt to rival the likes of Vogue, Tatler and Vanity Fair?

The company had already revolutionized the world of online fashion when it was launched by the former journalist Natalie Massenet in 2000, proving that designer labels could be sold via e-commerce without damaging their exclusive reputation. Today, the website boasts six million monthly unique visitors and a turnover of more £400 million a year. However, it is not yet profitable – and Net-a-Porter was sold to the luxury-goods company Richemont in 2010.

Can it now revolutionize print media? Massenet poached Macleod Smith in 2012 from Hearst Magazines UK, where she was the publishing director of Harper’s Bazaar and Esquire. Her challenge was to create the infrastructure of a magazine publisher and to launch Porter as a single global product.

The thinking behind Porter was to continue the fusion of fashion and content that had begun on Net-a-Porter and, as Macleod Smith says, to "put the woman at the heart of everything." She calls magazines such as Vogue "not very customer-friendly."

"Fashion magazines have become so industry-focused, they have lost sight of their consumer," she points out. "We went right back to the magazines of the '50s and '60s – they helped women get dressed.

We felt a lot of fashion magazines had stopped doing that, so this was about helping women get their own sense of style."

Porter’s first six issues each had an average circulation of 152,500 globally, 32,000 of which were paying subscribers. "On Harper’s, it took us six years to get to 20,000, so to get to 32,000 so quickly shows the appeal Porter has to women," Macleod Smith notes. Porter has one edition that goes on sale simultaneously around the world, rather than relying on local versions such as Vogue. This allows advertisers to run global campaigns.

The magazine is aimed at affluent women who are on the move and prepared to shell out $9.99 for a copy – more than its competitors. They are from households with an income of more than £170,000 ($260,000) a year, who go on 11 trips annually and spend more than £22,000 ($33,000) on fashion. To stay focused on these readers, Porter does not accept advertising from high-street stores or mass-market beauty products, providing luxury advertisers with a "safe haven."

Macleod Smith says that when a Net-a-Porter customer becomes a Porter subscriber, their rate of frequency on the site increases by 25% and their spend by 125%. Research showed that the core audience makes 60% of purchases online but are still keen on print magazines.

"Eighty-five percent of them said print was the No. 1 influence in helping them decide what to buy, and we realised we need to give our readers their fashion fix in print as well as in digital," she says.

The shoppable technology has generated 80,000 scans in total, with an 80% conversion rate, although Macleod Smith declines to give a cash figure.

The pugnacious Vogue publisher, Stephen Quinn, doubts Porter’s claim to be a global magazine – his estimates put its sales in the low thousands outside the UK and the US. Figures from Comag barcode data put average circulation of the first three editions at 100,000 each – though Macleod Smith points out that this does not cover international markets.

The figure is far below the print run of 390,000 for the debut issue – a circulation that helped Porter achieve average advertising rates of £25,000 ($38,000) a page, compared with an average of £17,500 ($27,000) for British Vogue, which has a circulation of 200,000.

While Quinn urges agencies to re-evaluate Porter, Macleod Smith insists that the magazine remains on the right track and that it has flipped the ad model on its head by comprising 65% editorial and 35 per cent ads. She dismisses Quinn as "ill-informed" about the new business model Porter has created in the magazine world – a single global buy for advertisers, distributed in 220 cities and 60 countries.

So, revolution or gross indulgence? Time will tell.

This article first appeared on campaignlive.co.uk

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