Non-Branded Sites and the Web of Obsession

July2005NewYorkMagIf magazine media executives are so bullish on the power of their multi-generation brands, why are they creating so many new websites that are incognito?

It’s happening all over in publishing lately and it is, according to Tony Silber in Folio, a puzzle. Silber’s referring to “the creation—especially in the last 12 to 18 months—of a proliferation of non-branded websites by major magazine companies with well-established mega brands.”

If magazine media brands are so valuable, why has this trend taken off like gangbusters? As Silber notes, publishing brands have been doing this for years (think Hearst and their that debuted in 2008) but believes the trend has become a craze.

“It’s almost like the current craft-beer craze,” Silber writes. “And in some ways, Hearst, Time Inc., New York are parallel to Anheuser-Busch, Coors and Miller Brewing when they roll out non-branded craft-beer variations.”

“So why?” he ponders. “If magazine media executives are so bullish on the power of their multi-generation brands, why are they creating so many new websites that are unrelated to their iconic existing brands?”

His theory is pretty straightforward…more traffic means more ad inventory means more revenue. “SI, for example, or various Hearst brands, get additional ad capacity by creating spinoff brands and selling advertising as a bundle,” he explains.

“They also attract new audiences—Millennials might be more likely to engage with, say, Campus Rush, than SI,” he notes.

That, I believe, is what’s really behind the craze, especially given the tendency of this demographic to eschew mass media for smaller, more targeted niche content.

Silber talked to the publishers themselves to get their take. And while they wrapped a lot of fancy words around their strategies, it boils down to eyeballs on their verticals.

“We’ve been doing verticals since the early days of the website,” said New York Magazine’s Ben Williams. “One of the appeals of that is to create distinct brands, you don’t really have to know that it has anything to do with New York Magazine. Some people know and some people don’t and we’re fine either way. What’s happened over the years, especially in the case with Vulture and The Cut, is we’ve seen big opportunities in terms of both audience and business and so we’ve grown those into sites unto themselves.”

“The Web rewards obsession,” Williams continued. “When people are into something, they can’t get enough of it and there’s no lack of space on the Internet so you can give them all the information they could possibly want on a certain topic and really go deep. All of our verticals are really tied to things that were already strengths in the magazine but we’ve been able to take those online and really blow them out.”

As the goat cheese and craft beer generation comes into its own in terms of consumerism, brands are taking notice and adjusting their strategies. We sure hope they got the memo that these Millennials really, really dig print.