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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Condé Nast looks ahead, with a focus on the future of digital

December 7, 2016 | By Theresa Cramer – Independent Journalist @Cramerstrasse

Changes are afoot at two well-known Condé Nast brands. In November, the iconic publishing brand announced that Teen Vogue would be going (almost) all-digital. Then, on December 1, Self followed suit. The changes seem to confirm what many of us already think: Digital is mainstream while print is becoming more and more niche.

Traffic to TeenVogue.com more than doubled from 2015 to 2016. And according to Condé Nast’s announcement, “Multiplatform unique visitors increased 147% YoY and mobile traffic more than doubled with an increase of 207% YoY, the biggest increases within the competitive set, and video viewers grew 222% YoY (comScore, September 2016).” These are exactly the kinds of stats you would expect to see from a publication whose audience skews young. So it is no surprise that the company, decided to invest “in Teen Vogue’s digital, video and social content and introduced a larger collectible quarterly print format.”

But the logic behind the transition toward “a new content and distribution strategy that will transform Self into a digital, video and socially-led brand” may not be as immediately self-evident. The regular print production of Self will end in February 2017 (though the Chinese version will go on in print), and continue with “special print editions around health and wellness-related moments throughout the year.”

For this brand, though, the emphasis on digital isn’t about the audience. Fred Santarpia, CDO, Condé Nast, says the Self content lends itself well to the digital format. He says the kind of service oriented content these readers crave—like, for instance, tips and tools to live a healthier lifestyle—plays really well in video format and on social channels. In other words, the content is very shareable.

While the announcement of the official change in strategy is still new, Self has been undergoing a transformation all year long. It got a shiny new website, and began betting big on video content. “Like Hearst Magazines, which led the way here, Conde [Nast] is rationalizing its costs, its brands and its audiences,” says Ken Doctor, author of Newsonomics: Twelve Trends That Will Shape the News You Get. “I expect it to be increasingly rigorous in this movement, under new CEO Bob Sauerberg. That means harder looks at how and where the audiences and advertisers are moving, and adjusting print/digital priority and staffing, accordingly.”

“The fact that Self is pointing to its digital success, especially in video and social, reflects a much stronger position CN has staked in these channels,” says Steve Smith, editorial director of events at MediaPost. “It’s Condé Nast Entertainment network of video across brands has achieved strong growth in recent years, and social presence is helping to drive that even further.”

One of the many notable changes to Condé Nast’s approach to these particular titles is that the company hasn’t entirely killed the print editions. “The move symbolizes the broadest change of our times. Digital has become mass, through social as well as direct, and print has become niche,” says Doctor. “Though print advertising’s free fall in 2016 has been astounding to behold, there are still tens of billions in print advertising. Niche—several to quarterly issues a year—allows publishers to re-introduce a bit of scarcity (always good for sales) and significantly reduce costs. That’s akin to another trend we’ll see within five years: Sunday-only print newspapers, based on the same niche/scarcity/better audience targeting principles.”

Santarpia echoes these sentiments, saying, “Our mission as a company, is to deliver great content wherever audiences are seeking it…and that includes the print platform.” And, as Smith points out, “…newsstand sales of bookazine style specialty issues can still do quite well for publishers – with higher cover prices, longer shelf lives, and still-lucrative print ad sales.”

But the new emphasis on digital for these brands means new opportunities for advertisers. “What you’ll see us really lean into is branded content in a very big way,” says Santarpia. Because branded content so often takes the form of video and is distributed socially, it will be a good fit for these brands.

So what does all of this mean for Condé Nast’s other brands? “I would emphasize that as a company we continue to invest a great deal of resource into our digital business,” says Santarpia. He notes that audiences shouldn’t expect “a legacy digital business.” Rather, he says Condé Nast is “…building the infrastructure and hiring the talent to create great content and deliver it in a premium way.” And that means a focus on new platforms and in new form factors.

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