"Content and commerce" is hardest for those who need it the most

By Erin Griffith , written on December 28, 2012

From The News Desk

It just kinda rolls off the tongue. Content and commerce. Suddenly every website with creative descriptions of its merchandize is doing "content" and every blog that links to Amazon is doing "commerce." It's a very on-trend strategy.

That might explain the packed house at Contently and Outbrain's content and commerce-themed meetup earlier this month. The audience was mostly made up of startups looking to boost their content strategies, and less the other way around. They wanted to use content to drive user acquisition, drive sales, drive engagement.

I found it a little ironic, because I've been a big believer that content and commerce only flows in the other direction, from content to commerce. Media outlets can do commerce because they have established credibility with their audiences, but commerce sites can't create good content, because their priority is always to close a sale first and foremost, and inform the reader second. It's harder for them to gain trust.

Media outlets are best-positioned to do commerce and they have the most to gain from it. They have the audience, brand and credibility. They could use the cash, too. The print ad dollars they're used to are quickly turning into digital dimes (and those dimes are looking rich compared with mobile pennies).

Content companies are held back by a number of things, according to a recent survey fromĀ Group Commerce and Forrester. The survey mostly touts the usefulness of outside vendor services (conveniently, GroupCommerce is a vendor with these exact services!), but it makes a salient point: Content companies know they need to monetize differently online. This ad thing hasn't worked out. Yahoo's infamous "if you build it, the digital ad dollars will come" chart hasn't done much to dig media companies out of low CPM hell.

They seem to think they're prepared for it, too: More than 50 percent of the media organizations surveyed said they were prepared or very prepared for order fulfillment, online payments, fraud management, customer service, order management, merchandizing and sourcing. We're starting to see the fruits of that prepared-ness with commerce efforts of varying commitments from the likes of Harper's Bazaar, Lucky Magazine, and Coastal Living.

But many old media brands are held back from offering commerce, according to those surveyed, by their business models, budgets and technology. More than thirty percent of those surveyed said their company's business models prevented them from doing commerce, and 29 percent said their budgets got in the way.

They might want to adapt soon: Magazines used to drive product discovery, and in doing so, benefitted from the ads sold alongside that consumption-friendly content. Now content discovery is driven by digital hybrids that sell the products directly within the content. Jetsetter is a shoppable travel magazine. Birchbox is a shoppable, sample-able beauty magazine. Thrillist and Urban Daddy are shoppable men's lifestyle magazines. Personalized catalogue apps like Pickie combine editorial and algorithm-driven curation. And the mother of product discovery, Pinterest, has the potential to drive more sales than all of the aforementioned combined if it ever gets its act together and rolls out an API for publishers and retailers.

New hybrid content sites with inventive commerce models are giving audiences their editorial fixes with the bonus of making it shoppable. But it's their print and old media predecessors that need it the most.