Opinion: Yen Magazine closes down. Could it have been saved?


And another magazine bites the dust.

Yen Magazine, a fantastic supporter of independent design and retail, published its final issue in February. (Wipes tear.)

We were so excited when they featured The Third Row when we launched in 2013. It was by far the most traffic we received from any of our launch publicity. Later, we worked with them to produce content for their blog which was featured on Instagram and had a huge response. While their readership was relatively small at 27K, their audience were super engaged.

So, where did they go wrong?

I’ve scanned 1000s of magazine issues and blog posts over the past 5 years to monitor when independent retailers and designers are being mentioned. A couple of weeks ago I checked our database and realised I’ve recorded over 5K incidences where products from independent stores on The Third Row have been mentioned. (!) After looking at THAT many magazines and blogs (I know, tough job, right?), and subconsciously absorbing patterns in editorial and advertising, I’m going to put it out there and say I know why magazines like Yen have folded: Publishing businesses – magazines and blogs – fail when the brands they feature in editorial and their advertisers are different.

Yen featured primarily independent designers and labels in their editorial, yet they failed to provide viable advertising options to these smaller businesses.

But of course Yen aren’t the first to fold because they failed to tap into this market. They’re just the latest in a long line.

A few years ago, I was speaking to an editor from now-defunct online city guides for Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Perth. I proposed an advertising concept involving independent stores that they had written about and was told, ‘We don’t want to make money from independent retailers and designers we’ve featured because that would be a bit greasy’. I understood why she was saying it, but my gut feeling was that that view was misguided.

If I was told the same thing today I know exactly what I’d say: ‘I don’t want to make money from independent retailers and designers because that would be greasy said Instagram and Facebook NOT EVER’.

Providing an advertising offering that delivers value for independent retailers and designers is not greasy. These businesses NEED a way of working with publishers who can reach their target customers.

 What every magazine and blog that wants to be profitable can learn from Vogue

Vogue is just full of advertisements. Don’t the people that read it realise that it’s wall to wall ads?’ We’ve all heard people say this.

Yet this is exactly the reason it’s so successful.

Vogue’s advertisers and the brands it features in editorial are one and the same. Vogue aren’t being ‘greasy’ (to borrow a term) and featuring their advertisers in editorial to keep them sweet. Their advertisers are a perfect brand fit for the publication, and so their products naturally appear in editorial. Overlap between advertisers and editorial is a sign of a healthy magazine and blog.

This makes for happy readers: Vogue’s advertisers are the brands that its readers want to hear from and so the ads aren’t an interruption to the reading experience. The ads in Vogue act as yet more beautiful content from brands its readers love, which makes it an even more enjoyable read.

It also makes for happy advertisers: Vogue delivers for its advertisers because they’re frequently being featured in editorial (not because they’re ‘being looked after’ by the magazine but because Vogue’s readers want to hear from them). And of course that’s what every advertiser wants. A recent study from 2014 by Nielsen commissioned by inPowered on the role of content in the consumer decision-making process concluded that PR is almost 90% more effective than advertising.

Its print circulation was dropping, but Yen might still be here in digital form if it had been able to create an advertising offering that delivered value for independent designers and retail brands, like the ones it featured in editorial.

Designing an advertising offering for independent brands

Let’s be realistic. For a blog or magazine that primarily features independent brands and businesses in editorial, selling ads is not as simple as:
1. Offering a full page print ad or banner ad to an independent brand
2. The brand seeing the value and buying it
3. The brand receiving a spike in sales that it can attribute to the ad

Isolated print advertisements and banner advertisements which can swallow an entire quarter’s marketing budget are a VERY hard sell for publishers. They simply don’t deliver enough value for these smaller businesses.

If they want to get a share of smaller brands’ marketing $ without it all going to Facebook, Instagram and Google ad re-targetting, blogs and magazines that feature independent brands need to come up with innovative new advertising offerings.

Based on all our work in the independent retail and PR/advertising space over the past 5 years, those offerings should do these things:

  1. Assist with brand recall – this is a major opportunity being missed almost every publisher and something which has been The Third Row’s goal since day one. Blogs and magazines need to help their audience remember and retrieve relevant brands featured by their publications when they want to purchase something.
  2. Deliver brand alignment with publications – this is the one thing that Facebook and Instagram can’t compete on. They can provide low cost access to potential customers – in fact, they can allow advertisers to reach a magazine or blog’s followers without the publication earning a cent – but they can’t build independent retailers’ and designers’ brand capital the way a magazine can through partnerships.
  3. Deliver multiple exposures to their audience to help build brand recognition and recall
  4. Are inherently useful to their audience – in a way that print advertisements that interrupt the reading experience and banner ads that are ignored on the periphery of the page, are not.

It’s too late to help Yen, but there are exciting changes afoot at The Third Row which will enable us to work with publishers to deliver on ALL these points. Stay tuned.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *