RACKING UP RESOURCES: From a tucked away table at The NoMad Restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, Racked’s top brass discusses the relaunch of their site and the common misconception about digital media companies today. “We have an ethics policy,” said Izzy Grinspan, executive editor of Racked. “We wrote it up when we joined Vox.”
Vox is shorthand for Vox Media Inc., which operates Racked and sister sites The Verge, SB Nation, Polygon, Curbed, Eater and Vox.com. Recently, the firm raised $46 million in its latest round of financing, valuing Vox at about $380 million. It might not be up there in the thin air of Vice Media’s valuation of $2.5 billion, but it isn’t chump change either. Part of that valuation is related to Vox’s content studios, which garners about 70 percent of the company’s revenue.
For Vox, the shopping-centric Racked represents a potential growth vehicle. According to Google Analytics, Racked garnered 11.2 million page views in December. Across its national and local sites, including Racked Miami, New York, L.A. and San Francisco, the site pulled eight million uniques. Vox hopes that with the new site, which launches today, it can grow its audience and advertising base even further. In order to accomplish this, Racked has developed a more upscale look and logo, not to mention slicker videos, photography and a shoppable Instagram account with the handle @rackedshopping.
But before diving into the relaunch, the team weighed in on the separation between editorial and advertising content.
“An ethics policy is important, too, because we create content for other brands, and we wanted to define to our readers that our editors aren’t doing that,” said Chad Mumm, vice president and creative director of Vox Media. Mumm, who is responsible for video across all the sites, including for content partnerships, explained that editors do not work on any material related to advertising.
“It’s about trust. I like to talk about church and state as being an economic reality as much as it is a moral one,” Mumm said. “If you betray your readers’ trust, they are not going to be readers anymore.”
Vox’s vice president and editorial director Lockhart Steele referenced traditional publishers such as Condé Nast, which recently said editors would work on native advertising copy, as surprising. “I don’t think any of us deserve any congratulations for having an ethics policy,” Steele said. “It’s great that we do. I’m proud that we do, but the idea that it’s like mind boggling — is mind boggling.”
Racked editor in chief Leslie Price explained that the policy includes not taking down posts and denoting what has been corrected in stories online. She added that Racked plans to expand the team from 17 to 22. She’s looking to bring on a fashion editor, a news editor, deputy editor and assistant.
Although there was much talk about journalism and original reporting as a focus, Racked has done little of that up until now, instead being more of an aggregator of news stories from other sites. Now the goal is to add more news and analysis, as well as video. With the relaunch, Vox has developed its first scripted series for Racked called “Try Hards” with the duo behind SRSLY. Racked will also release a pilot video with partner Dazed & Confused. The series is directed by fashion photographer Columbine Goldsmith and is about Rookie magazine writer Amy Rose Spiegel.
Racked has also brought on Lo Bosworth as health and wellness contributing editor for video and hopes to add live video to its site — not necessarily for fashion, but for events such as the Academy Awards.
Experimentation is central to the digital world, offered Vox Media chairman and chief executive officer Jim Bankoff via phone.
Bankoff said that the strength of Vox rests on technology such as its Chorus platform, video, custom studios and original storytelling.
Although Vox’s tech and culture site The Verge is one of the more profitable sites within the company, Bankoff said he sees Racked catching up, thanks to its core readership of female Millennials. That’s a group that traditional publishers are also vying for as they try to shift their business models.
“They clearly understand there’s a transition that needs to be coming,” Bankoff said when asked his views on print publishers. “They are preparing. Having said that, they are in a tough spot. They are tied to legacy business models that are providing them a lot of revenue, but they are declining. It’s hard to keep them afloat and develop digital, which is not as profitable in the short term. There’s also a cultural issue. We are optimizing for the future versus balancing the past with the future.”