NEW YORK — Refinery29 is ready to make the leap from fashion Web site to lifestyle player — and is looking to define how the next generation of media companies operate.
Once a site that published just a single post per week, Refinery29 now garners 90 million page views per month and will see its first overhaul since its launch in 2005 on Monday.
This story first appeared in the July 26, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The look, which includes an updated logo and a sleek, modern interface that tracks how articles are trending on social networks, is part of the company’s mission to become a “24/7 technology lifestyle platform,” according to cofounders Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano.
“It’s definitely not a magazine,” said Stefano. “We’re a media destination, it’s not about still or flash content, it’s not just flat. The advertising side has been a unique point of differentiation for us. Our ads are real content that people are viewing the same they would view a commercial if they were watching Bravo.”
The site has seen 100 percent growth year-over-year, receives 5.5 million unique visitors per month (this is closer to eight to nine million when you take into account its followers on social networks) and has 1.5 million e-mail subscribers. The site features about 80 posts per day, and in addition to a new headquarters in New York City, maintains offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington and London.
Refinery29 is on track to hit $25 million in ad revenue this year. In 2011, the site grossed $7.7 million in ad revenue, and last year this nearly doubled to $14.6 million. Neiman Marcus has signed on as a core advertiser for the relaunch, and Converse, H&M, Samsung and Essie are continuing to advertise.
An existing “shop” section — projected to generate $2 million in sales in 2013 — will be expanded dramatically and relaunched in late August. Curated by Refinery29 editors, the e-commerce section will feature 40,000 stockkeeping units that direct users to affiliate Web sites for an immediate point of purchase. Von Borries and Stefano expect total revenues to double next year. They also see the collection of data Refinery29 has access to as a future revenue opportunity.
“Up until two years ago, our competitive set would have been squarely in the traditional media world with magazine titles, but as we embrace product and technology, this has expanded to include, yes, traditional media companies — but also commerce companies like Amazon and eBay to community platforms like Polyvore,” von Borries said. “It’s a reflection of our own journey and evolving into a technology company. Our competitive set has greatly evolved.”
The two are fixated on the notion of “product discovery” and exposing users to a range of brands and then getting them to check out — whether it’s at Target, Rag & Bone or Brooklyn-based boutique Catbird. They say that they in no way aim to compete with these companies.
“Once someone is in an article [on the site, the question is], how do you get them to related articles?” Stefano said — pointing out that a Refinery29 reader doesn’t even leave the current page they’re on when they click on another article. “It brings the news feed to the article page.”
Von Borries added, “We’re obsessed with the forward momentum of the page. We take the ‘back button’ away from the user experience. [Here] you’re relentlessly moving forward.”
Users are given recommendations of similar stories they might like, powered by Gravity, a technology that uses an algorithm to get know a reader.
“We have a different approach to building brand integrated experiences,” Stefano said, adding that at Refinery29, ads are viewed as product and are continually integrated them into the content experience.
A recent example: Refinery29’s Beach House in Montauk, a four-weekend program sponsored by Sunglass Hut, Malibu Island Spiced Rum and Olay Fresh Effects. A group of tastemakers have been invited to the house to hang out, host parties and then chronicle this on Instagram.
“It’s about native advertising and aligning our advertising goals with a user’s goals,” Stefano said. “Banners are a dying dinosaur.”