Condé Nast

Condé Nast took its time in deciding to initiate an online paywall strategy across its brands, but it’s expecting it to be worth the wait.

“When we look at the success of The New Yorker paywall, it’s just tremendous,” said Pamela Drucker Mann, Condé’s chief revenue and marketing officer. “Honestly, I wish we had done this yesterday. It’s going to be a game-changer.”

Indeed, it appears that Condé’s move to put content for all of its brands behind a paywall by the end of the year, based on a metered approach that will vary between titles, is a first among consumer-focused lifestyle magazines. While rival Hearst Magazines is starting to toy with packaging some content, like that of Esquire’s political columnist Charles Pierce, behind a paywall, it’s yet to go full-tilt online. News outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post have really led the way with a focus on digital subscriptions and related revenue, but Condé couldn’t look to those outlets and be sure that its readers would be willing to start paying for something they’d been getting free for years.

In launching The New Yorker paywall in 2014, which was followed — years later — by the launch of a paywall for Wired in January 2018 and then Vanity Fair in April, Drucker Mann said the company was able to answer questions like, “Will traffic fall off?” “Are people willing to pay?” and collect and analyze data on what people chose to look at when they signed up.

With all three brands,Drucker Mann said engagement actually went up almost as soon as a paywall did and, surprisingly, there was no fall off in overall traffic.

Drucker Mann’s takeaway: “Once you tell [readers] this is worth paying for, they think it’s worth it.”

Asked why exactly it took so many years between starting The New Yorker paywall, which is thought to have brought it $118 million during fiscal 2018, those of Wired and Vanity Fair and now the rest, Drucker Mann hedged a bit, trying to argue that over four years wasn’t really that long to roll out a strategy from scratch.

But for anyone following along, the last few years at Condé have been pretty eventful, with an internal restructuring and consolidation to steady the business and realign it with a digital industry taking longer than originally anticipated, and more recently the sudden ouster of chief executive officer Bob Sauerberg and the decision to officially combine the U.S. and International Condé businesses into one, while launching the search for a new global ceo. Safe to say there’s been some other stuff going on, but 2018 is thought to have been something of a turning point for the company as it gained momentum with digital advertising and investments in video started to take hold. While Condé isn’t yet profitable again, the loss over fiscal 2018 is said to have been dramatically reduced from the $120 million loss in 2017 (following losses over at least the two years prior) likely leaving some headspace for rolling out a new revenue initiative like paywalls.

Drucker Mann is understandably excited to discuss something that’s “hard to have negative feelings about,” but she also struck a pragmatic tone when asked about the possibility of digital subscriptions being able to float the brands. “Honestly, no, they won’t,” she said, citing the “tremendous amount of revenue” now being driven by video and YouTube.

There are also no plans to shift the content strategy at any of the brands, like a Vogue for instance, which, online if not in print, leans heavily on SEO-led content and celebrity imagery, unlike the news and opinion style of The New Yorker. Drucker Mann said the company is planning to do even more SEO-driven content and that programmatic advertising, which is generally based on a site’s traffic, grew a total of 44 percent last year across The New Yorker, Wired and Vanity Fair. Also worth noting is that Vogue offshoot Vogue Runway has, as previously reported, started charging some smaller brands to post their online look books or collection images to the site, so another bit of revenue coming in there, too.   

As for all of this “diversification of revenue” being any kind of future planning around an ultimate demise of print, Drucker Mann held firm that Condé “feels really good” about the brands that still have a print magazine. (There will be nine after the prospective sales of W, Brides and Golf.)

“[The paywall] is agnostic of platform,”Drucker Mann said. “It’s not about shapeshifting or whether or not we have magazines or don’t — it’s just about accessing the content.”  

“Then at the same time, from an ad perspective, we become a more important company. They see this and say ‘Oh, you have all of these people willing to pay for your product, I want to be more integrated in your content’ — there’s a paradigm shift there.”

And so far, the reaction from advertisers has been “insane — very very positive,”Drucker Mann said. Same goes for the those that actually write and produce the content these paywalls will hinge on.

“I’ve gotten a bunch of e-mails from creatives in the industry,” Drucker Mann said, “saying basically, ‘It’s about time.’”

For More, See:

Cuts at Glamour as Condé Nast Transformation Continues

Condé Nast U.K. Posts First Loss in 20 Years

Who and What Can Save Condé Nast?

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