What does it mean for traditional media that so many big name brands are poaching talented writers?
With the magazine world slowly imploding upon itself, a new trend has emerged that will most definitely be gaining momentum in the New Year: talented fashion and culture writers leaving big name magazines to embrace retail and fashion brands directly. Making the switch to retail start-ups and blogs, you can expect to see this flood of editors, writers, and digital editorial assistants lending their voice to branded social media channels, refining overall editorial content, and leading the charge of a new era. As Fashionista recently wrote, there seems to be a game of musical chairs going on, with magazines at the losing end. One of the most notable departures this past year was Faran Krentcil, who helped create the tone for NYLON Magazine’s digital efforts, while also putting nylonmag.com on the map and exploding its international readership. She recently left for Clarins’ Beauty Flash blog and Shopbop’s blog (respectively). However, the list could go on.
While the above came as somewhat of a shock for long-time fans, the practice of recruiting writers with a strong editorial background for positions at digital start-ups is nothing new. At Gilt Groupe, Editorial Director Melissa Liebling- Goldberg comes from a magazine editorial background at People Magazine, and Ideeli Editorial Director Ariana Speyer has spent time at both Interview Magazine and the now defunct Domino. Marie Claire’s Taylor Tomasi Hill has also been part of this new wave, as she recently made the switch from the revered lady mag to working at buzzy retail platform Moda Operandi. To show just how high up this trend goes, Lucy Yeomans of Harper’s Bazaar UK recently left her famous and career-making position as EIC, for a relatively similar digital position at Net-A-Porter. She wasn’t alone though, Harper’s Anamaria Wilson, the Fashion Features Director at Harper’s Bazaar, also left to join Michael Kors as Vice President of global corporate communications. While leaving a position for a higher paying role is nothing new, what makes all of these transitions so notable is the rapid frequency of them, especially from editorial to retail, with a heavy emphasis on digital. Also, more interestingly, that younger writers like Kretcil are looking to make their careers in digital retail, rather than through traditional means like working their way up the ranks at magazines.
For those shaking their heads that someone would give up a position in traditional media for the relatively uncharted waters of digital retail, Kretcil recently said this during an interview with Fashionista:
[I]t’s less of a jump than people would expect. The reality is that, frankly, a consumer magazine is a brand–there are ethics involved, of course, but there are also ethics involved in a regular brand…I think that as barriers come down and the industry becomes more transparent, and people really start understanding that magazines function as brands, it’s going to become more acceptable for people to get their news from brands.
Meanwhile brand-extension blogs, which a few years ago were seen as uncharted territory, are now mainstays of the business. Leading the pack, Urban Outfitters’ blog was one of the first on the scene after poaching key players from NYLON, who has over the years used their leverage and capital to bring on some of the best names in art and fashion, as well as collaborations and guest columnists ranging from Sea of Shoes to Vice Magazine alumni. What’s made their blog so popular though is that they consistently create quality original content, something sadly lacking in many magazines today– both online and off.
Now that the word is out on the marketing effectiveness and reach of brand blogs, other retail outlets have flocked to the table. Most successful has been J.Crew/ Madewell (which now boasts New York Mag’s Jenny Kang and GQ’s Sean Hotchkiss as part of their editorial staff), Warby Parker, ASOS, Opening Ceremony, up and comers Assembly NY, and most recently Aritzia, whose blog is headed by Editor-in-Chief Luke Crisell, former Executive Editor of Nylon Magazine. In the coming year, Aritzia is promising they “will merge editorial and commerce, providing an integrated, modern platform for amazing content, social and shopping.”As part of their overall editorial and outreach strategy, the brand recently turned their Instagram channel over to influential user Liz Eswein for an “Instagram Takeover” (a common new practice in which a brand relinquishes control of their Instagram account to a popular tastemaker, an incredibly savvy move seeing as how many of these users have upwards of 12K followers) where viewers were offered the chance to see the city “through the eyes of personal style blogger Helena Glazer of Brooklyn Blonde…and Lucky Magazine Digital Editor and Textbook blogger John Jannuzzi.
Currently the line between naked retail and magazines has already become so hazy, it makes sense that the two would eventually join forces. As the digital revolution heats up and more magazines move to digital, we’ll also be seeing a lot more writers leave their high status (but lower-paying) traditional editorial gigs for the relative comfort and stability of digital blogs. The upside is that with the financial backing of the brand, they may be able to have more creative freedom and the power to truly innovate again (think full videos, funding artists for mini branded magazines, and perhaps even podcasts and online TV shows). While it will be sad to see many of these long-running magazines lose so many talented writers, the only way to keep a good writer creating fresh, original content is to offer more money, something that seems to be impossible for these struggling titles.
Our prediction? As personal style bloggers gain more and more followers for their “unbiased views on fashion and retail”, the average readership will move towards their sites, rather than to big name magazines who often have their own sales interests in mind. Meanwhile, straightforward retail blogs will pick at traditional magazine’s readership from the other end of the spectrum.
Our advice for magazines? They need to find a way to bridge the retail/editorial gap, which will allow them to invest more in quality original content and highly skilled writers. Because if they can’t, they just might be the ones reading the help wanted ads.