Can editors and bloggers ever just get along?
What once might have been a tenuous relationship — remember when bloggers were banned from shows? — has seemingly matured into a grudging symbiosis. But recent comments from both sides have revealed that there is a polarizing discord bubbling under the poised surface.
The controversy got a public airing earlier this week when an innocuous conversation among Vogue editors devolved into a piling-on of blogger criticisms.
“Please stop … You are heralding the death of style,” wrote Vogue.com creative digital director Sally Singer about bloggers paid to change outfits at fashion week. The magazine’s Sarah Mower concurred, calling professional bloggers “pathetic” and “desperate.” Her colleague Nicole Phelps said it’s “distressing” for brands to participate, and congratulated Versace and Bottega Veneta for abstaining. The title’s Alessandra Codinha also weighed in, laughing at calling them bloggers when it seemed to be about merely turning up and looking “ridiculous.” “It’s all pretty embarrassing,” she wrote on its website.
The undercurrent seemed less about the clothes and more about two camps vying for front-row seats and retail dollars: the “establishment” versus the “rule-breakers.” The bickering has played out on blogs, Twitter and backstage in a way that resembles a high school dram-edy pitting the cool girls against the hot new ingénue.
“What we are seeing is that traditional magazines are frustrated, and ad dollars are being rationed,” said RewardStyle founder Amber Venz Box, whose company helps bloggers monetize content. “Traditional media, as they move into digital, are moving into the eyeball game to get the most page views. It’s definitely not a good look to be criticizing peers in the industry, but it comes down to frustration that designers are finding [bloggers] relevant.”
Singer has worked at fashion magazines for decades; Bubble, considered one of the original style bloggers, started Style Bubble just 10 years ago. Most influencers don’t have business or fashion backgrounds and when brands are forking out for them to attend an event, it’s bound to invite a comparison of who is working harder, who is more qualified and for how much money.
Professional influencers are incentivized to drive sales because they make a commission, Venz Box said. “Their incentives are aligned [with the brand’s], and traditional editors feel the pain.” And “traditional” media outlets are increasingly relying on influencer coverage to drive their own web traffic – just this month Bubble is featured in Vogue UK while street style galleries are known to drive clicks.
“The Vogue comments were not only parochial but they were surprisingly anachronistic,” said Mary Orton, who is a blogger and founder of a blogger content aggregator called Trove. “Editors and bloggers are not mutually exclusive. They each play complementary and distinctly significant roles in the industry. The fashion blogosphere is not monolithic and should not be uniformly reduced to ignorant preeners.”
Tamu McPherson, who is a blogger at All the Pretty Birds, said that brands, media properties and retailers have all seen the benefits of working with bloggers. She, along with Orton, added that many influencers were encouraged to pursue a career in fashion because of magazine editors. “I greatly admire and respect their talent,” McPherson said. “I understand that the current shift in the industry may be unsettling, but the times are changing rapidly and we have to accept it and find a way to work together.”
Lee Anne Grant, who is vice president of business development for ShopStyle, which has a ShopStyle Collective network of 16,000 bloggers, said that part of the appeal of bloggers is that shoppers want to see real people and that the younger generation doesn’t want something too aspirational. The popularity of Snapchat, she said, is evidence of that. ShopStyle created a tool called Emoticode that adds links to Snapchat that makes feeds shoppable.
At New York Fashion Week, ShopStyle invited about 250 of its top bloggers to attend its Social House, where they could borrow items from Neiman Marcus to wear while attending the shows. Neiman Marcus vice president of media and advertising Natalie Bowman said that ShopStyle helps introduce the brand to a new group of customers, and that it drives business for Neiman Marcus “across the board.”
But is it just a classic case of fre-nemies?
Earlier this week, Karen Katz, who is president and chief executive officer and director at The Neiman Marcus Group, told investors that bloggers were an element of a fashion cycle that is out of sync with the customer. “Until a few years ago, only retailers in the fashion media attended the major fashion shows. Access was exclusive. Today, fashion shows are now blogged and broadcast all over the world via social media. By the time the merchandise ships many months later, the newness and excitement have worn off and, in many cases, the customer has moved on.”
At Shopstyle, Grant said, there is an air of mutual respect between bloggers and PopSugar editors.
Venz Box said that she has seen evidence of that relationship beginning to change. When a magazine editor asked for an introduction to one of RewardStyle’s major influencers at fashion week, the influencer brushed off the invite, saying she wasn’t really interested. “The establishment person wanted to talk about business, but the influencer didn’t have time and didn’t see how they could make money from that,” Venz Box said.
Thus, Venz Box added, the complaints from fashion editors are “falling on deaf ears.”
“Ninety-nine percent of our clients don’t have any idea who those Vogue editors are. A couple years ago, ‘blogger’ was a pejorative term. But [editors] don’t have that choice anymore.”
But brands do and for now, Grant said, there is still room for influencers in addition to editorial content and for display advertising in the marketing mix. “Brands that tap into all the opportunities that we have are the ones that do best,” she said. “They are embracing the change, and we encourage them to try it all.”