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Bloggers are joining the million dollar club.
This story first appeared in the June 12, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Bryanboy’s Bryan Grey-Yambao may have caused a stir in 2010 when he boasted that he made $100,000 annually as a blogger, but today that number appears paltry — top style bloggers now can earn more than $1 million a year. Hired to help promote luxury and fashion brands, bloggers now are brands in themselves, generating income from affiliate sales, brand collaborations, their own collections and appearance fees. And the amounts the top-tier charges keep going up: Appearance fees, $5,000 just a few years ago, are now minimums of $10,000 to $15,000 today. Top-tier bloggers can command close to $50,000 for a high-profile brand event, such as the opening of a global flagship.
“Now, $100,000 is not enough,” Grey-Yambao, 32, said. “For a young, upstart blogger, $100,000 may seem like a lot of money. [But] as a business, a legit business, $100,000 won’t really bring you that far. You have a lot of expenses.”
He stressed that he’s not a millionaire just yet — but did admit that his net worth is steadily rising on an annual basis. A portion of his earnings come from the Fairchild Fashion Media-owned NowManifest network, which is also home to Jane Aldridge’s Sea of Shoes, Susanna Lau’s Style Bubble, Rumi Neely’s Fashiontoast, Derek Blasberg’s Mr. Blasberg, Anna dello Russo and Elin Kling’s Style by Kling. (Fairchild Fashion Media also owns WWD.)
“I’ve made enough to live comfortably and be able to not wear samples and buy my clothes retail,” Grey-Yambao said.
His preferred revenue stream is advertising on the site — which he calls a “back to roots” strategy — as he steers clear of promoted Instagram posts or relying too heavily on affiliate links, which are what bloggers use to drive click-throughs to retailers’ product pages. Display advertising allows Grey-Yambao to maintain his voice and credibility with the content he produces.
Because he prefers to stay “on brand,” he is selective about the projects he participates in. Last year, for example, he said he turned down a well-known publication that offered him a six-figure salary to be an editor at large. Similarly, he passed on an offer from a mass brand to design three bags for $75,000. To date, the most he has received for an appearance was $40,000 to attend the ribbon cutting at the Siam Center in Bangkok last year. He has an ongoing collaboration with Adrienne Landau and is in discussions with Linda Farrow. Earlier this month, he hosted a meet and greet at the Just Cavalli store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood — and although he doesn’t know the dollar amount in sales his four-hour appearance drove, the brand told him it was the second highest sales day the store has had to date.
Driving sales is the main reason brands and retailers continue to link up with bloggers — at least the top-tier ones. According to Amber Venz, president of performance-based digital management agency RewardStyle, the average blogger conversion rate — a measure of how many users click a link and make a purchase — is 1 percent, a typical number for content-based or native advertising. However, it’s the retail sales these bloggers drive that the firm focuses on.
“The most important thing we look at is retail sales driven,” Venz said. “While conversion rate can tell us a bit about a publisher [blogger], we’re a little less interested in that and more interested in what [sales] they will drive as a publisher.”
By that measure, she said the top-five bloggers are “not who people think they are.” RewardStyle confirmed its top earners can make more than $80,000 a month solely on affiliate commissions and excluding any other work or partnerships the bloggers might be compensated for. Nashville-based Mary Seng of Happily Grey, Chrissy Ott of The Perfect Palette and Erin Gates of Elements of Style are among these top performers and have made the company’s top 20 list every month this year so far.
Virtually unknown in the fashion world, Salt Lake City-based Rachel Parcell of Pink Peonies is one of the top earners. While the 23-year-old blogger declined to comment on her annual income, based on RewardStyle’s data, she could make at least $960,000 from affiliate programs alone this year. Other income is on top of that, such as partnerships with brands like TRESemmé or J. Crew.
Parcell said her site began two-and-a-half years ago as an online journal that she intended to be more personal than Facebook so friends and family could keep up with what she was doing. “I have strong numbers,” she said. “I’m not up in the millions, yet I convert higher than some of these girls who have millions of followers.”
Her conversion rates range from 3 to 12 percent, depending on the month (February and September always have the most clicks and May and June tend to be slightly lower). In April, she said she drove 100,000 clicks to nordstrom.com, one of her highest converting affiliate retail partners.
In the changing online world, it’s no longer just about bloggers’ sites, though. Their social platforms — especially Instagram — draw just as much traffic, if not more, than their homepage. Venz said that for many bloggers, Instagram represents the fastest-growing part of their audience, elicits the most engagement and is the preferred publishing platform.
Enter RewardStyle’s LiketoKnow:It, which launched in January and is a platform that enables bloggers to produce affiliate earnings on the social medium, which does not allow for linking out. After users sign up, they will receive e-mails with direct links to purchase product featured in a blogger’s photo that they “liked.” Participants can opt for the frequency at which they receive e-mails — immediately, daily or weekly — with 98 percent of users selecting the immediate option. LiketoKnow:It has driven $1 million in sales since March.
There are more than 1,300 active bloggers using LiketoKnow:It, with more than 20,000 posts published that see more than 1.5 million likes a day. Upward of 70,000 users have received 900,000 e-mails detailing product information according to the company. Well-known blogs using the platform include Song of Style, Sincerely Jules, Blair Eadie Bee, The Coveteur and Tuula Vintage.
James Nord, cofounder and chief executive officer of blogger online directory Fohr Card — a company that mines statistics, information and background on 3,000 bloggers that reach 115 million people a month — echoed Venz’s take on Instagram. He said that Instagram followings for the firm’s top 200 bloggers over the past three months surged by 40 percent. Traffic on the blogs themselves, however, has fallen by 12.5 percent. This does not indicate a waning influence —just a change in traffic pattern as more Internet users are turning to bloggers’ social platforms to keep with them instead of their actual blog.
Though top bloggers are making their fortunes, they are not passing themselves off as journalists. Instead, they’re brand stars whose voices are subjective to what they do or don’t like at the moment — often times dependent on which companies will pay them the most. None of the top bloggers interviewed for this article say they adhere to a strict set of journalistic codes or ethics.
Nord cautioned that brands have to be sure they’re accurately reporting on a blogger’s influence across all platforms. Fohr Card, which works with 65 brands including J. Crew, Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Estée Lauder, “absolutely looks at sales data,” he said, and the rate at which bloggers convert — but this is not everything. For instance, Jessica Stein’s blog, Tuula Vintage, garners about 117,000 uniques a month — yet her Instagram account has close to one million followers.
“If you’re just looking at sales data, you’re missing out on a million impressions that you would just ignore if you were looking at sales,” Nord said.
Even as bloggers begin to devote as much attention to Instagram as they do to their online sites, they also are focusing on other income streams — including building their own brands.
The duo behind Snob Essentials —Tina Craig and Kelly Cook — have been making a steady six-figure income since their second year of business, which launched in 2005 as Bag Snob. Today Craig and Cook’s income is projected by industry sources to surpass the $1 million mark. Craig declined to discuss figures.
Today, the business covers not only the blog but also their own handbag line, Snob Essentials, on HSN. Half of one of the bags in the line sold out in a matter of minutes, said a spokesperson for HSN, and a few others sold out within 24 hours. This is in addition to their basic appearance fees and the hosting of events like dinners, store openings and shopping events.
Craig said that she tries to limit events to two per season in Dallas, Los Angeles, and New York City. It’s this “snob” stamp of approval that drives the high conversion rates and leads brands like Oscar de la Renta, Valentino and Tod’s to partner with the site.
“Bag Snob is more than a blog now, it’s a lifestyle, and that’s why we partner with them,” said Sarika Rastogi, senior director of public relations for the U.S. arm of Tod’s. “They are influencing women everywhere.”
“We are huge fans of Tina’s and she has been a friend of the house for many years now,” a spokesperson for Valentino said. “She is invited to all our fashion shows in Paris and is top of mind when working on projects with a strong online presence.”
Leandra Medine of Man Repeller also is elevating her site to more of a business than simply a blog. The 25-year-old has expanded into hosting events, collaborating with brands like Superga and Dannijo and taking royalties from her designs. She even published her first book of essays, “Man Repeller: Seeking Love. Finding Overalls.”
What used to be a Web site dedicated to Medine’s life — her style, travels, tales of repelling men with her overall sartorial sense — has evolved into a women’s lifestyle site that now employs three other full-time staff members. “The blog is now a matter of ‘we’ as opposed to ‘I,’” Medine said, of the transition. “I’m trying to build Man Repeller as an attitude and less of a single individual. I realized that three summers ago when Instagram became more popular that my readers could take so much from my social media. I thought, I have this degree in writing, I’m decent at it, why am I not expounding upon that?”
Craig, Cook and Medine — as well as Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad, Aimee Song of Song of Style and Emily Weiss of Into the Gloss — are among the leaders of the pack when it comes to bloggers evolving into businesses. Then there is Grey-Yambao, Stein, Sincerely Jules’ Julie Sarinara, Atlantic-Pacific’s Blair Eadie and Peace Love Shea’s Shea Marie — a group who also continue to command increasingly higher rates for their services.
Even as top bloggers’ rates go up, though, fashion and retail brands are focusing their collaborative efforts on fewer of them to get the most bang for their buck. Stuart Weitzman reportedly paid Ferragni about 30,000 euros, or more than $40,000, to attend its Milan flagship opening last year, while Grey-Yambao received closer to $15,000 for attending the same event. A representative from Stuart Weitzman said the company is unable to comment on fees.
Marc Jacobs said it doesn’t employ bloggers on a regular basis, but sources confirmed that Coty Inc., the licensor for the brand’s fragrances, paid $1,000 to $2,000 a post for Jacobs’ Daisy fragrance campaign.
According to an internal e-mail obtained by WWD, Rebecca Minkoff was in negotiations to pay Fashiontoast’s Neely $3,000 to publish a “dedicated post” on Instagram wearing the designer’s denim line when it launched last summer — although the deal was never completed. A source inside the company also said that Song of Style’s Song was paid $5,000 to publish a photo wearing the blue-and-white bandana-print shorts from the same collection. Uri Minkoff, chief executive officer at Rebecca Minkoff, denied the brand paid Neely, and Song said she doesn’t comment on financials.
Minkoff said the brand’s approach to working with bloggers has varied from a “shotgun or sniper” approach to one where the company elected to work with a specific few.
“That pendulum has swung. A lot of this is trial and error,” Minkoff said, citing the time the brand took a number of bloggers to the Hamptons during the summer of 2012. He called the trip “great, but to a degree.” He noted that people began to question Rebecca Minkoff’s approach about working so extensively with bloggers. “[We started to get asked if we] are taking a wide approach or a singular approach. It was challenged to us by a couple of people we would call A-listers of the blogging universe,” he said.
It was from that point that Rebecca Minkoff opted to take a more measured stance on partnering with bloggers. This spring, a few bloggers were gifted a monogrammed version of the Perry Satchel — and none of them were compensated. Minkoff maintained that through their efforts on social media — as well as from the support of bloggers — the silhouette has been the top selling style on rebeccaminkoff.com this season.
Calvin Klein enlisted Ferragni and Medine as the first bloggers to break its #mycalvins campaign on Instagram in February — a throwback to the classic Calvin Klein logo waistband from the Eighties and Nineties. The program, which had bloggers and celebrities posting Instagram images of themselves in their Calvins, is part of the brand’s more measured strategy when it comes to working with bloggers.
Malcolm Carfrae, executive vice president and chief communications officer of Calvin Klein Inc., pointed out that, combined, Ferragni and Medine reach more than four million fans on social media — and have highly engaged audiences. Since its February rollout, the campaign has engaged more than 200 influencers from 25 countries, with a combined 300 posts reaching almost 200 million fans and generating more than six million fan interactions.
Carfrae called the initiative a “turnkey example” of how fashion brands should work with influencers. In the early days of digital, brands typically created a campaign and then turned to influencers to amplify their message — but #mycalvins was both launched by and carried forward by the voice of influencers.
“Since we aren’t controlling the process, the influencers are developing content in which they are on both sides of the creative process; they are the art director, stylist and subject. It is unfolding at a pivotal moment in the social landscape where it is not only incentivizing fans to participate, but also providing a platform for a new tier of influencers to leverage their content,” Carfrae said.