Women’s Wear Daily delivered it’s first weekly publication on Wednesday. The 300 page, part magazine, part paper, replaces print trade-journals subscribers received every weekday morning. Following Condé Nast selling “the Bible of Fashion” to Penske Media Corporation in 2014, the publication has attempted to make their archaic metaphor less actualized. In the era of first-person fashion blogs, free online bits, and a 24-7 news feeds, Women’s Wear Daily decided on a digital strategy to shed their stone-age staunch.
Following suit, Style.com is transitioning to apparel sales this fall. The 2000-born, digital magazine reigned in catwalk-coverage over Condé Nast’s publications Vogue and W since 2000. Originally meant to be a cost effective entry into digital–a consolidated staff versus employing teams for both Condé Nast’s glossies–the site quickly became the Associated Press of Fashion coverage, pioneering online content with a talented staff. Competitors quote Style.com as an authority source. It’s a status well-deserved; their mix of congratulatory and critical runway reviews revisit a time when backdoor deals between publishers and advertisers appeared at-bay. But as digital grew bigger than any publication predicted, Condé Nast couldn’t ignore Vogue and W needed to produce online content (under their own brand names) in order to save their iconic images.
And then the conflicts started. How can Vogue, also reffered to as “the fashion bible,” retain it’s superior image online when Style.com is the go-to-content source for fashion? Vouge‘s companion was not only diluting it’s image, but causing questions about content overlap: do the in-depth pieces go to Style.com or the traditional glossies? Ultimately, Vogue.com trended to the soft-stories and sponsored sells, which is no face the force-of-fashion wants to present.
Unlike the fans of Style.com, WWD Subscribers will still get their daily dose, dished in downloadable PDF for reading sans-wifi. What’s different is an expanded online staff; bureaus established across the globe will create news content on a continuous cycle. Social Media platforms will also have a reimagined role. Journalists’ job duties will include commenting on WWD stories over Twitter and Instagram, suggesting the company will focus on creator-to-consumer conversations versus one corporate voice.
Style.com’s news content will move under the domain voguerunway.com, while Condé Nast retains the style.com domain exclusively for a staff-curated ecommerce edit. Condé Nast continues to reaffirm voguerunway will keep style.com’s strictly-news tone. However, analysis of Vogue‘s voice-change in adopting digital proves Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message” theory; a new channel will influence the Style.com content competitors and consumers have come to love.
The first cause is affiliate links, which style.com will use to build their inventory-less shop. It’s cost effective for the company, they earn commissions off of all the products sold, but it also brings about a new level of conflict in terms of voguerunway.com‘s fashion reviews and analysis. All magazines make money indirectly selling clothes. But in writing for print, where there are lesser tools for advertisers to track whether each phrase hurts or helps conversions, journalists have less motivation to put a positive spin on brand-talk. A brand advertises through a variety of channels; tracing stale sales back to a flat magazine feature is a far-leap.
With digital, conversion drops from one brand mention to the next are monitored and acted on. Advertisers know publications are desperate for dollars, ammunition to direct journalists’ brand-talks to their favor. For affiliate programs, the problem grows. Now the company earns commission directly from products sold. Why wouldn’t Vogue.com work to talk-up the products on their sister site? And, won’t the fact they share different domains (versus concepts Like Elle and Lucky shops) make the recommendations even more deceiving? Vogue can promote products not directly advertised on their site, while they benefit from Style.com just the same. The problem is less the actual advertising content and more it’s indirectness, coupled with the fact the fashion industry is losing one of it’s last neutral grounds.
And maybe that would be less troubling if WWD wasn’t facing a similar fate. Their new, glossy weekly edition is prime advertising space. Over one-hundred ad pages pack the first edition, about 1/3 of it’s page total. Still, Editor-in-Chief Edward Nardoza maintains the paper’s neutral sentiment will remain untouched. In an interview with Fashioninsta, Nardosa said:
“Burberry advertises all the time on our website and they have a nice beautiful print ad…It doesn’t affect how we cover Burberry the company and Burberry understands that if they have difficulties, we’ll write that. If they have victories, we’ll write that, too.”
Considering WWD is a trade journal, and brands have always known bribery there would be a tough sell, it seems reasonable the WWD voice can retain most of it’s unbiased perspective. But problems mount with Nardoza stating “digital media — and particularly social media — responds to individual voices in a very active way” and that the magazine will “experiment with it”. Brands may know better not to bribe the company, but if journalists now have an individual-yet-associated voice, they become easy play for promotion.
Fashion and media are vehicles that show and shape our society. They have the power to ideate, alienate, and ignite, among others. When we lose media transparency, we lose the ability to critically analyze how fashion affects our time and place. The sad fact is both these publications are attempting to save our last bit of societal fashion critique. Without adapting, their revenues can’t dent their expense debt. Which, poses the question, is a sided voice better than none?