PLAY IT AGAIN: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
This appears to be the strategy at Condé Nast with the launch of Vogue Business out of the international arm — only the publisher’s most recent attempt at a business-to-business platform for the fashion industry.
The launch, set for Tuesday morning in a newsletter format and an accompanying web site, comes less than four years after Condé sold WWD and sister properties to its current owner, Penske Media Corp., at a substantial loss on the almost $650 million Condé paid to acquire WWD parent Fairchild Fashion Media from Walt Disney Co. in 1999. Then there was Style.com, started in 2000 as a fashion news site that included reviews and served as an online home for some magazine content, which, after that strategy racked up substantial losses, morphed into an ill-fated e-commerce platform and quickly shuttered in 2017. It was eventually bought by FarFetch in a stock deal worth abut $12.4 million and shut down completely. Then there’s Vogue Runway, initially branded as a separate destination similar to what Style.com once was and which has since been folded into the main Vogue site and become little more than a tab for fashion show images (which it has started charging some brands thousands of dollars to host).
Early Monday, Condé said the aim of Vogue Business is to offer a “global perspective” and analysis on fashion and technology, but the twice-a-week newsletter will also include content from “across the web” — i.e., aggregated or formally syndicated content from other sources. The company said Vogue Business is essentially a continuation of “The Perspective,” a newsletter-type service it’s been testing in international markets (and with content from various Condé titles within those markets) since June and it will start off with the 7,500 subscribers that test gained. But unusual in b-to-b media, the product will launch free of charge.
Even though the plan is to ultimately make the platform subscription-based, the publisher would not specify a price range. A spokeswoman said Condé intends to further establish the brand and see audience and engagement levels before pricing it out. That’s another unusual move for a brand trying to position itself as b-to-b — one that leads to the question of how much advertising, paid content and syndicated content should be expected in the newsletter.
“Our development methodology has ensured we understand our audience intimately, thanks to in-depth user research and constant reader feedback,” Ciara Byrne, director of business development at Condé Nast International, said. Or at least six months’ worth of reader feedback.
The launch comes just a few days after Condé Nast in the U.S. said it would be putting up metered paywalls online for all of its brands by the end of the year, noting the success it’s seen with such a method at The New Yorker, Wired and most recently Vanity Fair.
After that news was revealed, Wolfgang Blau, president of CNI, wrote in a lengthy Facebook post an answer to his own question of “what makes a good trade journalist?” It seemed at the time a response to coverage of Condé Nast’s paywall decision, but now looks obviously timed to the launch of Vogue Business.
“Far too much trade journalism, and especially media journalism, has reduced itself to plain people journalism, resorting to personalization as the ultimate tool of complexity reduction while missing out on context, deep industry knowledge, analytical skill and interpretative strength, the latter four being what should define trade journalism,” Blau wrote, perhaps smarting from the questions raised by numerous business journalists about whether the Condé paywall strategy would succeed and why it took so long to roll out.
Presumably, Vogue Business will attempt to fit in with Blau’s ideal of trade reporting. The news outlet will be edited by Lauren Indvik, until recently head of news and features at CNI’s Vogue International, and before that editor in chief of Fashionista.com. Katerina Ang is also joining as global commissioning editor; she previously worked as a digital editor with The Wall Street Journal and before that as a correspondent in Asia for WWD while it was still part of Condé.
Vogue International is another new element within CNI, designed as a centralized hub of writers, social media editors, photo editors and designers, who produce content that can be syndicated across all of Vogue’s international editions. A successor for Indvik at Vogue International has not been revealed, nor has there been a replacement for its former editor in chief Justine Bellavita, who left the company last year to work for Condé in Italy. It is understood that the remaining Vogue International team will be kept separate from the new Vogue Business platform, which has a staff of 24, only six of whom work in editorial.
How exactly Vogue Business will operate, or if its outlook on international business and industry coverage will change once the planned combination of Condé Nast’s U.S. business and CNI takes hold, remains to be seen. For now, the platform/newsletter is considered to live under the CNI umbrella, while some sort of integration is expected later, when a new global chief executive officer of Condé is found. As part of the planned U.S.-International combination, two halves of Condé that have operated independently for decades, ceo Bob Sauerberg was ousted but remains a lame duck while an executive search is carried out. Meanwhile Jonathan Newhouse, ceo of CNI, is set to become executive chairman of the combined company.
However, a CNI spokeswoman noted there has been daily contact with the U.S. business to roll out the new tech platform for Vogue Business. Clearly Condé is hoping that the fourth time’s a charm.
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