Magazine Publishers Going After Shoppers With E-Commerce Deals

Android phones and iPads are the new malls, so the line between publisher and retailer is blurring

The line between publisher and retailer is blurring as companies partner up to try and capture more of the e-commerce pie.

Hearst and People magazine have both recently signed deals targeting online shoppers: Hearst aligned with Amazon, and People with Gilt Groupe on an sale inspired by Oscar fashions. 

Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association, said that at its recent Annual Summit there was much discussion of the Amazon deal and other e-commerce proposals. 

“Consumers are buying more and more stuff online, so there is an opportunity for publishers to provide this comprehensive experience,” Horan told TheWrap.

But some question how these partnerships will affect editorial independence. Horan said a renewed look at e-commerce is likely in 2012.

Also read: Magazines Flex Their Apps — But Will They Make Any Money From Them?

In its deal, Hearst will make in-magazine purchases much easier, providing links to Amazon in the tablet editions of many of its magazines.

People magazine, a Time Inc. title, chose to partner with the Gilt Groupe for its own brand of e-commerce. Its partnership is content only, as some of People.com's editors will curate the items available for Gilt's special Oscars sale. The clothing available is supposed to be inspired by the Oscar red carpet.

Hearst and Time are not the first companies to pursue this new revenue stream, nor will they be the last.

According to ComScore's "Mobile Future in Focus" report released Thursday, mobile devices are the new go-to gadgets for online shopping, browsing and bidding.

More than half of Americans that own smartphones used them to perform retail-related activities while in stores last year. In December, at the height of the holiday shopping period, 28.5 million mobile users accessed online retail content; that's an 87 percent increase over December of 2010.

“The rise of mobile retail has become both an on-screen and in-store phenomenon,” the report said. “The retail industry, which already experienced an upheaval with the advent of online shopping, is poised for further disruption as smartphones enter brick-and-mortar stores.”

That phenomenon is likely to spread to tablets as well, since the market for those devices is growing even faster than the one for smartphones did.

“In less than two years, nearly 40 million tablets were in use among mobile subscribers in the U.S., outpacing smartphones which took 7 years to achieve the same level of adoption,” the study noted.

As the ComScore study notes, consumers are doing research or buying content on their phones and tablets, “Publishers are trying to reduce any kind of friction preventing consumer access to these products.”

John Loughlin, general manager of Hearst Magazines, told Adweek's Lucia Moses that there's no editorial interference. Ruth Reichl, the former editor of Gourmet and now the editorial director of the Gilt Groupe's Gilt Taste, contends that there's no conflict of interest if you're vigilant about it.

"More and more you are seeing the blending of commerce and content," Reichl told TheWrap last year. "Where it becomes a conflict is if you're hedging your bets and someone comes in and offers you a lot of money to sell things. Suddenly you're selling things you really don’t like."