Publishers and Direct-to-Consumer Ecommerce: Five Online Leaders

Publishers and Direct-to-Consumer Ecommerce: Five Online Leaders

This article examines how five of the world’s largest and most-prestigious publishers are not only thriving online but have also taken their strategies one step further with direct to consumer ecommerce (DTC or D2C) powered by Shopify Plus:

  1. The New York Times
  2. BuzzFeed
  3. The Economist
  4. Condé Nast
  5. HarperCollins

Keep reading to find out how D2C ecommerce is driving growth at all five publishers, or …

Download the full D2C ecommerce report. Inside, you’ll get:

  • Comprehensive data
  • Leading benefits of D2C
  • And 12 more enterprise examples

Access the D2C report here

1. The New York Times

The New York Times has been offering readers “All the news that’s fit to print” since 1851. Today, The Times is succeeding where other publishers have fallen on hard times: $1.67 billion in annual revenue, online subscription growth, international expansion, and new forms of storytelling — namely, its podcast, The Daily.

At the end of Q3 2018, The New York Times surpassed 3 million digital-only subscriptions and more than 4 million total subscriptions.

“This was a strong third quarter for the company,” reported Mark Thompson, president and CEO of The New York Times Company. “We’re executing on our subscription-first strategy; this quarter, subscription revenues accounted for nearly two-thirds of the Company’s revenues. We’re investing aggressively in our journalism, product and marketing and are seeing tangible results in our digital growth.”

Always forward-thinking, NYT’s direct-to-consumer offering gives its expanding user base an additional touchpoint for deepening their relationship.

In its online store, the company sells branded goods, archival photography, books, and personalized frontpage reprints.

However, what’s truly innovative is how NYT has taken its extensive library of print and digital content and monetized them both by offering readers custom products.

For instance, leveraging a host of previously published recipes available to subscribers, shoppers can create a custom cookbook of their favorites. There are 24 chapters to choose from, the choice of hard or soft cover, and even a custom dedicated page:

In fact, the cookbook is just one in a host of personalized products that serve to deepen its loyal readers’ love affair with the brand even more:

Direct-to-consumer ecommerce on The New York Times featuring personalized products

2. BuzzFeed

When you’re the place the internet turns to for popular culture — think trends, lists, quizzes, memes, GIFs, entertainment news, etc. — it makes sense that you would venture into selling merch.

That’s what BuzzFeed did in 2016.

“We realized that our editorial sensibility and identity-based content can lend itself to physical goods, too,” says Ben Kaufman, Chief Commerce Officer at BuzzFeed.

The company’s flagship product was the Tasty One Top. It grew out of BuzzFeed’s Tasty, the world’s largest social food network that’s been massively successful. (At the risk of getting meta, The New York Times covered that story under the headline: “How BuzzFeed’s Tasty Conquered Online Food.”)

Another case in point, one list that made the rounds on social media surrounded President Trump’s excitement about sitting in Mack trucks. When a reader made the comment, “This article could make a great book,” like that, it was so:

Because of their lean and quick-to-act team, BuzzFeed is able to take an idea that is creating cultural buzz on the internet and run with it to have, sometimes within hours or days, a product available to sell.

“BuzzFeed has a longstanding partnership with Shopify. We run a lot of Shopify Plus shops,” says Kaufman. “We love them to the moon and back. The speed at which we can allow our talent and community to dream up merch and get it live and attached to content is critical. Our goal is to create products that are part of and create culture as fast as possible.”

Two of BuzzFeed’s D2C (DTC) ecommerce stores: Easy Junior and Nifty

In addition to its ecommerce websites, BuzzFeed’s shop on Amazon lets the company quickly deploy new products as well as maintain its branded-experience through a multi-channel marketplace

3. The Economist

In somewhat similar fashion, The Economist has also joined the ranks of D2C. Their ecommerce store offers not only back issues, diaries, as well as personalized printing on books, but t-shirts, mugs, bags, and more.

However, The Economist differentiates itself in two ways.

First, they advertise via Facebook and Instagram through both traditional and retargeted campaigns.

This is a great example of how to ensure your audience — no matter where they are — can find out your brand has diversified and offers merchandise, regardless of the type.

Second, The Economist also runs an online course center:

There, customers can sign up for online courses ranging from science, business, productivity, finance and economics, and more.

The Economist quickly brought their learning directly to consumers with confidence that Shopify Plus would be able to scale with their growth and expand as they needed to through multiple sales channels.

4. Condé Nast

Mega-publisher, Condé Nast, has one of the largest portfolios in the world, not to mention some of the highest profile brands: GQ, Vanity Fair, Glamour, The New Yorker, BRIDES, W, Wired, Bon Appétit, Vogue, amongst others.

And with these high profile brands, Condé Nast is no stranger to VIP events, red carpets, and full-scale conferences.

So, it was a natural transition to create … an event management and software company equipped to help bring Fashion Week-level parties to any brand.

Some of Condé Nast’s top assets have bridged the IRL gap between its brands and its readers with these events. Three of those forays include …

Glamour Women of the Year

Three days of powerful women from all walks of life converge on NYC to inspire women from all over the world. Tickets are sold directly through their online shop.

Teen Vogue Summit

Empowering teens to do more through Teen Vogue Summit. As one attendee said, “It is an event all young women need to experience.”

Vogue Forces of Fashion

Celebrating those who dare to do things differently, Vogue Forces of Fashion is not just about fashion. It brings together an A+ crowd of women and men from all walks of life to share how change and disruption can be used for good.

5. HarperCollins

HarperCollins was in trouble.

The ecommerce platform it was using to host Collins Leaning — its educational publishing arm — was set to be discontinued. As not to miss a beat, they hired We Make Websites, an agency that specializes doing Shopify Plus “at scale,” to help them replatform.

And quickly.

In four months, the agency was able to build a new store that eliminated “nightmareish navigation,” helps visitors preview books, lets them pre-order or order, and organizes complex products that often have multiple statuses and multiple formats.

On top of that, We Make Websites also created a much-needed custom checkout:

“The Collins Learning site has two target audiences, parents and teachers, and each is allowed to purchase is slightly different ways,” explains WMW’s case study.

“Teachers are allowed to purchase evaluation copies for their school and allowed to purchase bulk amounts textbooks at a lower rate. Both target audiences can use different payment methods, parents or guardians can use PayPal or credit cards, whilst schools must use either a school registered credit card or school account.”

Image via We Make Websites

Publishing and D2C Ecommerce in the 21st Century

These five brands have not only taken to the online world but they’ve also evolved to make their businesses thrive digitally.

Though it is important to highlight that publishing is far from dead, D2C ecommerce can open up new revenue streams, introduce new audiences to your products, and deepen the love your existing audience has for your outlets.

Take it from these industry leaders, the world of publishing is alive and well.

About the author

Karine Bengualid

Karine Bengualid is a freelance copywriter (and Sesame Street enthusiast) at Brought to you by the letter K. She writes audience-specific stories to connect brands with their ideal customers. Karine brings her special spice blend (2 cups of research, 1 tbsp of detail, and a dash of chutzpah) to her style of copywriting. When she’s not busy stringing your perfect words together, she’s building her animal rescue, Maison Misha.

Check out Karine Bengualid’s work