The bulk of Monocle’s revenue comes from its print publication, but “there’s a direct relationship between the revenue and what retail allows us to do,” he said. In other words, successful ecommerce and brick-and-mortar sales underwrite what would otherwise be prohibitively expensive journalism.
Monocle is also known for developing a network of international "bureaus" during a period when many major reporting outlets were cutting back on their boots on the ground in international markets, which Brûlé partially attributes to its retail presence.
“When we take space in Hong Kong and 150 square feet is retail, the other 700 square feet provides space for our correspondents and editorial," he said. "In a place where other people don’t have bureaus anymore, retail is our entry point.”
News and ecommerce sites are often built on a narrowly focused audience. Monocle has a little more than 80,000 subscribers, fewer than many struggling regional newspapers. But Monocle’s pitch to advertisers and brand partners is the density of its readers as a consumer set.
“The retail shops, the airport stores and cafes, the magazine … are all going for the same audience,” said Brûlé. “And it’s someone we can go to advertisers and say, ‘We know this person buys this.’”
That ability to provide a consistent, cohesive audience is the key link between ecommerce and editorial. Huckberry, an ecommerce platform, has launched writing fellowships, maintains a regular journal, publishes glossy print editions and recently unrolled a new “Behind the Brand” feature, which gives a kind of long-form reporting treatment to a brand partner.
Providing that kind of in-depth storytelling “crushes on the sales front,” according to Huckberry co-founder Richard Greiner, and by dedicating continued resources to their coverage, they can maintain an audience that for flash sale sites or social media buzz would disappear like smoke in the wind.
“We’d rather be narrow than broad,” said Brûlé, echoing the same reliance on a distinct audience as opposed to a large audience.
There are crucial differences, however. Monocle, or any journalism outlet, must keep a stricter eye on its standards. Thus the products Monocle sells are almost all exclusive to the company or designed by Monocle’s own team. Whereas Huckberry, which can be a more unabashed brand vehicle, uses its platform to elevate partners.
It should come as no surprise, though, that Huckberry plans to open a brick-and-mortar location, following brands like Monocle's and Warby Parker/Harry’s successful implementation of the strategy as a way to solidify their core audiences.
In the Business of Fashion article breaking the news on Style.com’s relaunch, the incoming president of the ecommerce platform, Franck Zayan, summed up why both ecommerce players and publications are converging on this space: “We’re able to go all the way from that point of inspiration to the point of transaction and then to the point of physical transaction and the interaction with the store.”
It’s the mirror image of the omnichannel strategy that has reinvigorated legacy retail in the face of new-age competition.
A startup like Huckberry is now able to put together an ecommerce platform, secure payment services and basic analytics without a prohibitive investment. The company uses Braintree as its payment gateway and Spree Commerce for a customizable platform and UX. Greiner called it “easy and inexpensive to get an ecommerce store off the ground … if you're scrappy.”
For both Monocle and Huckberry, the move to retail is paved by ecommerce experience, which touches on the needs of manufacturing, supply chain logistics and inventory management.
Another important reason these and other companies are trying to turn their readers into their consumers is the enriched data set that comes along with it. Monocle doesn’t employ the cross-channel data analytics that will likely accompany a media powerhouse like Condé Nast’s pivot to ecommerce. Part of that is the company’s move away from mobile (there is no tablet edition and the app is for streaming radio), which is the most common nexus for cross-channel strategies.
But Brûlé emphasized that retail opens up some very granular marketing opportunities. Monocle funnels most of its subscribers to brick-and-mortar locations to pick up their monthly issue, which gives store managers a chance to identify and engage with readers they particularly value, such as leaders in the financial community. “You have them in the store … and you can literally read the room,” he said.
Brands are searching for opportunities to tap consumers at their most captive moments. And for that, there is no replicating the voices that a certain audience is choosing to regularly read or listen to, whether those voices come from a newsroom or not.
As Brûlé aptly notes, “We can tell you many of our readers are runners, and that they actually requested we develop a running range. Is that why Nike’s a big advertiser now? It could be.”