February 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

A Digital Convergence

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If Thrillist came at retailing from the content world, eBay is coming at content from its well-established position as a big marketplace for web shoppers. EBay created an online magazine called The Inside Source in November 2009 that builds its content around what people are shopping for on eBay, or what the magazine's editors think they should be shopping for.

The Inside Source editorial team tracks the latest fashion, home and garden and culture trends on eBay, and the site features profiles of sellers, guest pieces from experts such as celebrity style consultants and more. A mid-January edition, for example, features Richard Sinnott, creative director of accessories and footwear for high-end fashion brand Michael Kors, musing on the vintage collectables he's found on eBay, and, while he's at it, disclosing that he's purchased a car on eBay.

While advertising-supported magazines want to drive traffic to their web sites and their advertisers, the goal of The Inside Source is to get readers to click off TheInsideSource.com—to eBay to make a purchase of items featured in the magazine content. And it seems to be working fairly well. Of visitors to TheInsideSource.com, an average of 18% click through to eBay.com each month, eBays says. EBay won't reveal sales stemming from the site, but says traffic is up 50% since August and 21% year over year. The site today attracts 26,000 monthly unique visitors and it has 1,200 subscribers to its related newsletter.

While eBay and Thrillist are both focused on selling through web sites, Elle Group chose to target the largely affluent consumers who have purchased an iPad since it was released last year. The iPad app, which took about five months to create, is updated monthly to coincide with each new issue of the magazine. Though initially it's free, Elle Group plans to charge $2.99 per issue, $1 less than the newsstand price. Elle says the app has been downloaded about 30,000 times as of mid-December, about two months after launch.

Reading to buying

With the digital app version of Elle, users can select their favorite items from each issue and save their picks to an Inspiration Board, the iPad equivalent of tearing out and pinning pages from the magazine onto a cork board. Shoppers can create multiple personalized Inspiration Boards for separate categories, such as one for tops and another for accessories, and add new items from each issue as it is released. Users can e-mail their Inspiration Boards to friends, share them on social networks and click through to e-commerce sites to purchase products they like.

Another feature called the Personal Stylist enables a user to upload a photo of her face, then use the touchscreen interface of the iPad to swipe through nearly every product in an issue—from apparel tops to bottoms—to create a look; she can then buy pieces of that look online via links Elle provides to retailers' e-commerce sites. The January issue includes Shop Now buttons that link to products on the e-commerce sites of HSN, Bloomingdale's, Dillard's, Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, and many more retailers. Elle won't say whether it collects an affiliate fee when shoppers click through or buy at an e-commerce site featured in the app.

Elle on the iPad is a very different product from a print version of the magazine, and the app lets the magazine, and the shopping features, come alive in a way that would not be possible with a printed page. "We've basically deconstructed every piece of content in the magazine and let users interact with it how they want," says Domeniconi, the chief brand officer of Elle Group. "They can click on and interact with every element on a magazine page—from a shirt, to a pair of pants to shoes."

For example, there's distinct functionality at each of the four corners of a page on the iPad app. Touching one corner brings up the table of contents for the magazine, while others launch the user's Inspiration Board or enable her to share information on Twitter or Facebook.

Within the pages there's more content. A sentence might link to a recent Elle blog post on a related topic, a small icon of a skirt might enlarge with a tap showing a larger picture and more details, and Buy Now links next to some items take shoppers directly to the product page on an e-commerce site.

And there's more. A book review may offer a video clip from the author and a link to Amazon.com where a shopper can buy the novel. A movie review might show a trailer and offer a link to buy tickets to the show. And the Editor's Letter in the iPad app is delivered via video, instead of text, Domeniconi says.

In fact, there is so much content for app users to dig into that Elle issues a warning when a consumer first opens the issue, saying, "We've bundled a lot of interactivity into each issue, so please be patient and leave the app open to allow the download to complete."

Elle says it's receiving positive feedback from users about the interactivity and shopping capabilities in the digital magazine, but has not disclosed sales results.

A serious man

While Elle is a well-known magazine brand, Gilt Groupe is trying to quickly establish itself as a source of fashion information for men, at least in part to help drive more traffic and sales to its e-commerce site, GiltMan.com. Gilt launched a new site in September meant to be an information hub for style-conscious men, called Gilt Manual. And it moved quickly to establish its credibility by hiring well-known men's fashion writers, including Tyler Thoreson of Men.Style.com and former GQ editor Andy Comer to head up Gilt Manual.

The idea is to offer top-notch fashion content while softly promoting sales on GiltMan.com, a flash-sale site for men that Gilt launched in October. The content site also can help Gilt attract the kind of well-heeled male consumers that the retailer will be targeting with its full-price men's fashion site scheduled to debut this summer.

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