Data Alchemy: How Airbnb and Hearst are Turning Data in Print

You may remember that Airbnb launched Pineapple, their first print title, back in 2014. At the time they joined a growing number of digital-first companies launching in print. Then came hints of a possible partnership with Hearst a year later, with the premier issue of Airbnbmag debuting last fall.

After much anticipation, the new print magazine from Airbnb and Hearst is finally making its debut on the newsstand. And its secret sauce is user data.

“When the new travel publication Airbnbmag hits select newsstands and mailboxes later this month, many of the stories, including the cover feature set in Havana, will be sourced from billions of anonymous data points collected by the home-sharing service,” writes Jeffrey Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal.

It’s a perfect vehicle to promote the brand’s slogan “Be at home in the world,” with its insider information and “around the block” nature of the editorial content. And it’s a beautiful use of consumer data to create highly relevant and sought-after content.

“We know how many people are searching to stay in Havana, Detroit or Tokyo, and we know how many people want to go based on search dates for future trips,” said Brian Chesky, chief executive of Airbnb Inc. “No one has billions of demand search data points for nearly every country in the world. That gives us a leg up.”

Mr. Chesky also noted that while Airbnb is a tech company, he embraced the idea of a print travel publication because “there’s the possibility that it can be saved. It isn’t ephemeral, as opposed to content on a feed that expires.”

Incidentally, we’ve been hearing this sentiment a lot from digital-first brands, including Paul Petrunia, founder of Archinect, who just this month announced the launch of their print magazine Ed.

“It will be a hybrid publication, co-existing with the interactive, community-based platform that Archinect nurtures, while growing into an archive of material that will generate a clearer perspective of our industry over time, at a different scale than the internet naturally facilitates,” Petrunia wrote on his company’s website.

This archival idea exists in the new Airbnb Mag as well, notes the company’s chief exec Brian Chesky. Acknowledging that yes, they are indeed a tech company, the idea of a print magazine has real merit because “there’s the possibility that it can be saved. It isn’t ephemeral, as opposed to content on a feed that expires.”

There’s much to love about all of this:

  • The growing recognition by digital-first brands of the value of print to their story-telling efforts;
  • The willingness of big media brands to partner with digital brands in ventures like this;
  • The creative use of big data to inform and influence editorial in ways that are strikingly relevant to readers.

We are seeing magazines evolve in real time, as digital brands embrace custom print as a way to nurture and grow their customer relationships.