LONDON — Wallpaper, the London-based design magazine, has built its reputation on the slick edit of hard-to-find design products and trends that it showcases each month. So for editor in chief Tony Chambers, it made sense for Wallpaper to “bring the pages to life,” in the form of a shop called Wallspace, which opened recently in the new Design Supermarket area of Milan department store La Rinascente.
“We’re making the stuff we like more readily accessible,” said Chambers, adding the area would carry items such as electronics by the Japanese label Plus Minus Zero, porcelain rice bowls by Alexa Lixfeld from Germany and David Chipperfield’s Tonale homeware for Alessi.
“With the strength of the Wallpaper brand, it’s sort of a seal of approval,” he said.
Chambers added he anticipates the retail area — which was created by La Rinascente’s chief executive officer Vittorio Radice, formerly of Marks & Spencer and Selfridges in the U.K. — will provide a similar boost to the magazine’s profile. “It’s quite important for a publication to be a brand,” said Chambers.
Gord Ray, publishing director of Wallpaper, said the concept could eventually provide revenue for the title. “In the first instance it’s a branding exercise, but we are looking at ways for it to switch to be a revenue generator. However, our revenue model won’t suddenly switch to becoming a retailer,” he stressed, adding the magazine is also looking at launching the Wallspace concept in another city during 2010.
Wallpaper isn’t the only magazine that’s parlayed its title into retail. Since its launch in 2007, Monocle — launched by Wallpaper and Wink Media founder Tyler Brûlé — has offered exclusive products for sale via its Web site, such as a leather notebook designed with Valextra, watches made with the Japanese company Beams, and wool scarves with Drakes. The magazine now has its own brick-and-mortar boutiques in London and Los Angeles that stock similar merchandise to the site, as well as back issues of the magazine.
Meanwhile, Jefferson Hack, editor in chief of Another Magazine, recently launched an online store, shop.anothermag.com, which offers limited edition art prints by artists including Jake and Dinos Chapman, alongside a line of products such as a scented candle with Colette — formulated to mimic the fragrance of newsprint; a neoprene-lined CD case by Raf Simons, and a laptop case by Gareth Pugh made with manufacturer Incase.
Hack doesn’t view the project as a commercial endeavor. “It’s not really just about selling the products; it’s more about having fun with the idea of how fashion and product design intersect,” said Hack, adding he believes he’s just as likely to lose money on the products. “The most commercial benefit is being able to create fun, in-store and window projects at Colette, Opening Ceremony, Joyce and Liberty [where the products will be sold]. That means the actual print issue of Another Magazine gets maximum visibility at retail, directly influencing the sales of the fashion featured in the magazine in some of the most difficult retail times ever.”
While these fashion and design titles are creating retail spaces and products as an extension of the brand, publishers are jumping into retail as a way to get an insight into the behavior of potential readers and customers — or to convert their community of readers into customers.
Earlier this year, News International Ltd., the British division of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, took a minority stake in Brand Alley, an online private sales site for designer clothes, homewares and accessories. Rob Feldmann, ceo of Brand Alley UK Ltd., said while Brand Alley doesn’t share data with News International, it talks to the publishing company about the trends the site is seeing in buying habits.
“If Brand Alley looked at the purchases in Manchester, we’d see in that demographic it’s women aged between 35 and 45, mostly working mothers, who are spending between 80 and 100 pounds [between $133 and $167],” said Feldmann. “That might be helpful to News International if they’re trying to find that sort of reader for Sunday Times Style or the News of the World’s Fabulous magazine, they might then do an event in Manchester. We are very data-driven and publishers are interested in finding out about consumer habits,” added Feldmann.
Feldmann said insight into customer behavior could potentially help News International target offers to its readers. He pointed to a venture News International’s Fabulous magazine and Brand Alley had partnered on in September, when the site held an online designer shoe sale with Fabulous to raise money for U.K. charity Wellbeing of Women. Visitors to Fabulous’ Web site were given the option to click through to Brand Alley’s site to buy discounted designer shoes in aid of the charity, and were then given the option to become Brand Alley members.
“To keep their circulation up newspapers want to offer something special to readers,” Feldmann said. And the designer sales concept seems to be a popular model for publishers to present to their readership. As reported, Daily Candy will launch a private sales Web site, Swirl, later this month and last year German publishing group Gruner + Jahr, which publishes titles such as Brigitte and Stern, took an undisclosed stake in Madrid-based private sales site Buy VIP. The Spanish online designer sales company has a similar members-only model to Brand Alley.
Meanwhile Bauer’s U.K. arm, which publishes Grazia, POP and More, took the step of launching its own private sales Web site, Cocosa, late last year. “Cocosa excited Bauer as it was a new service for our existing consumer base and opened up a new e-commerce revenue stream that would allow us to both generate significant profits…and to learn from for further initiatives,” said Andrew Robb, managing director of Cocosa, who added the site now has around 115,000 members “and is showing good revenue growth.” Robb said the site was originally designed with the Grazia reader in mind, but Cocosa’s membership has turned out to be “even more affluent than the already sophisticated Grazia audience.”
Bauer has added a retail element to that title, too. Last month, Grazia partnered with eleven British retailers including Topshop and Whistles, to design a piece for each of the labels. The pieces were sold both in the individual retailers’ stores and via Grazia’s Web site. The project was an editorial promotion as a opposed to a revenue generator for Grazia, and was promoted in the magazine’s pages and on its Web site. According to Grazia’s editor in chief Jane Bruton, the project served to highlight the potential of the magazine’s readers to become customers of the retailer. “[The collection] underlines Grazia’s unique relationship with fashion retailers in driving women directly into their stores,” she said.
Desmond O’Rourke, course director of the master’s program in publishing at the London College of Communication, believes publishers moving into new business areas is an inevitable result of the dip in advertising revenues. “Publishers are trying to get to grips…with the Internet seeping advertising away. They’re beginning to realize they’ve got intangible assets in their brand equity and that they should leverage their brand,” said O’Rourke, adding readers aren’t necessarily wary of their news providers branching into commercial endeavors. “We’ve got quite a literate consumer culture, who know and recognize what advertising is.”
However, O’Rourke did underline that any retail or product related project should have a “synergy” with a magazine’s brand. “It’s very important to make sure you don’t devalue the brand, and you don’t want to compete directly with your advertisers,” he said. “I think there’s increasingly a blurring [between advertising and editorial]. Whereas people [once] said ‘we have media companies,’ they’ll increasingly say ‘we have brands that can articulate values across different media.’”