Headline Review: 'Magazines Begin to Sell the Fashion They Review'

As the glossies have always credited the samples featured in their editorial spreads, and listed retailers in their "Where to Buy" sections, it only seems fitting that they would benefit from a commission or other rendition of affiliate marketing when their recommendations lead to a sale. Today's NYTimes published an article on the plethora of glossies that are moving towards affiliate marketing models: Magazines Begin to Sell the Fashion They Review.

Fashion magazines are suddenly getting into the retailing business.

While the glossies have long had a reputation for accommodating the designers they cover, sometimes guaranteeing coverage to those who advertise in their pages, a wave of new ventures and partnerships suggests they are willing to go even further by selling the designers’ clothes.

It is a move that is raising some eyebrows in the industry, as magazines like Vogue, GQ and Esquire, struggling to survive in an online world, could potentially become competitors to stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York.

To be clear, it is not the magazines who are selling the fashion - they are merely referring the reader to a point of purchase in a more direct way than could happen in the past through print alone (without a direct web-link or barcode). This is essentially affiliate marketing. The logic of this content+affiliate marketing business model has been amplified in recent years with the proliferation of technologies that enable e-commerce websites to understand where their traffic is coming from, as well as technologies that enable consumers to scan samples from the pages of a magazine with smartphone apps such as RedLaser - all parts have fallen into place to capitalize on the built-in audience of trusting magazine readers, and to follow their actions from the pages of a magazine to an e-commerce site where the transactions occur.

Further, I believe that NYTimes writer Eric Wilson makes an excellent point in highlighting the fact that retailers - AND brands, I might add - have been in the content-producing game for years. Whether through the Barneys catalogs or LVMH's www.nowness.com, there is media competition coming from all sides for the simple fact that brands and retailers need to control their brand message.

In the end, I believe that a unique form of affiliate marketing for fashion publications will be more a complimentor than a competitor to brick-and-mortar stores. They can help the department stores and boutiques understand what is selling before going to market, and can take on the riskier items and still maintain a reputation as being a beacon for fashion trends.

The only real risk I see here is one that has not yet been addressed, and that has nothing to do with competition, although it may eventually affect advertisers within the magazines. Fashion magazines and their online counterparts, like Vogue and Style.com, exist to thrill readers with the hottest looks in fashion, and also to deliver styled looks mixed from a range of samples provided by their advertisers. This serves to educate the audience on trends, and drives them to buy from advertisers, including retailers. I believe the focus on monetizing fashion recommendations may lead magazines like Vogue to dilute the high-fashion message and push items with a lower price tag or greater mass-appeal in order to drive up revenue. And THAT is where the message of high-fashion pioneering would be lost and the beacon extinguished, thus destroying a powerful tool of high-fashion marketing for brands and retailers alike.