April 24, 2013, 9:48 AM

Magazines create their own form of e-retailing

Better Homes and Gardens eyes more e-commerce.

Lead Photo

Better Homes and Gardens, a  92-year-old magazine published by Meredith Corp., has a robust web presence at BHG.com, averaging about 5.6 million monthly visitors as measured from September through November last year. That traffic is on par with e-commerce sites like Victoria’s Secret, Cabela’s and HP Shopping, according to Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

If all goes according to plan, BHG.com itself could soon be a major e-commerce site.

Last August, Meredith added a Shop section to BHG.com, enabling the publisher to sell online the products it recommends in the pages of the magazine and on its web site. As of early 2013, the Shop listed for sale more than 500,000 products from dozens of major e-retailers including Walmart.com (No. 4 in the Top 500), Overstock.com Inc. (27) , Target Corp. (23) and Sur La Table Inc. (394). The products featured in the Shop are a mix of items featured in magazine stories, editors’ picks and products from retailers and brands routinely featured in Better Homes and Gardens, says Janell Pittman, general manager for BHG.com. “We are making it very easy for readers to buy what they see,” she says.

There are two levels of fees for retailers listed in the Shop. BHG.com charges a fee to the listed retailer for each click that takes a BHG.com reader to the retailer’s product page, and takes a share of the sale should a consumer complete the purchase. Pittman declines to reveal the fees or revenue share percentage. But she says early results are surpassing expectations, noting the average order value for BHG.com-referred shoppers is $125. 

Better Homes and Gardens isn’t alone in its push to generate a fresh revenue stream by attaching its name to an e-commerce initiative. Over the last two years or so, such consumer magazines including Lucky, Esquire, Real Simple, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Coastal Living have taken steps to leverage their titles, reputations and web traffic to drive online sales. At the same time, the process has been going in the opposite direction. Web-only e-retailers like Gilt Groupe and Net-a-Porter are trying their hands as publishers—each has launched print or digital magazines in the last year.

Publishers today say consumers want more from them than ink on paper, and the desire to deepen their ties with readers, along with the revenue opportunity, is spurring their move toward web commerce. Meanwhile web retailers understand that consumers like having an editorial voice they can trust to help them interpret trends when they shop. While some web-only retailers are launching their own publications to deliver that kind of advice, others, like home décor e-retailer Wayfair.com, are pursuing similar goals in partnerships with established titles.

Consumer magazine publishers need to find new revenue streams because print advertising—their primary source of income—is declining. From 2002 to 2012 the total number of print advertising pages dropped 33.2%, according to the Publishers Information Bureau, which tracks consumer magazine advertising spending on behalf of the Magazine Publishers of America, an industry trade group. Ad pages for Better Homes and Gardens, for example, dropped 11.9% from Q1 2012 to Q1 2013.

For much more about the intersection of magazines and e-commerce, read the upcoming May issue of Internet Retailer magazine.

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