“ASOS Magazine” blurs the line between e-commerce and editorial

Part of the appeal of content marketing is that your brand is offering value other than your service or product to consumers. Content marketing allows brands to provide content and, thus value, for free. But in order to be considered “pure” content marketing, the content needs to stand on its own and add editorial value.

However, there are some markets that say otherwise. The traditional magazine industry’s dire state has lead to a bleeding of commerce and content, often yielding mixed results. For some brands like ASOS, a British online fashion and beauty store aimed at the 18 to 35-year-old crowd, this means newfound success in print and online.

Fast-fashion brand ASOS, which stands for As Seen On Screen, takes its name literally. Every issue of their self-titled print and online publication, ASOS Magazine, features sales items from their website. Unlike other branded publications, ASOS is not in the business of making a “coffee table” magazine. Yes, flipping through the glossy pages of this print magazine is satisfying, but ASOS follows its fast-fashion ethos to deliver magazines that appeal to the here-and-now type. Or more importantly, the type inclined to buy what’s in ASOS’ pages each month and eagerly await for next month’s picks.

E-commerce is often considered the magazine industry’s golden opportunity to make money. In an interview with Flash and Flames, former ASOS CEO Nick Robertson explains the importance of content: “the first pound of marketing an online business goes into delivery and returns, and we spend £100m a year on making that free. The second pound goes into how best to represent ASOS. So we use content: our emails, the fashion magazine, the mobile app. The convergence between retail and media, this is it. The business model for magazines, that was made up of advertising revenue, is now clothes sales.” To note, however, is that ASOS does sell advertisements in their magazine though it seems to be powered by e-commerce.

For users who download the magazine to their mobile device or peruse it at leisure online, it’s incredibly easy to directly buy the fashion products from the 15-year-old fashion brand, giving it a leg up on its competition. Fashion magazines like Cosmopolitan have to use third-party companies like Shop Advisor to sell what’s in their magazine.

Make no mistake though—ASOS Magazine is still an editorial product. “We do showcase product and that’s very important, but in ideas meetings, it’s not driven by product launches,” said associate editor Marina Crook. “It’s more about what’s important at this time of year. We work in tandem with the retail team.” What could be just a glorified catalogue is supported by strong editorial content typical of their competition compiled by an in-house team. With forays into fashion trends, beauty how-tos, and interviews with actors, activists, and fashionistas, it doesn’t feel out of place at newsstands.

Perhaps the branded magazine’s most impressive feat is convincing Hollywood starlets like Jennifer Lawrence, Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Claire Danes, and Lea Michele to grace the cover. According to Fashionista, the brand and magazine acquired such A-list cover stars by targeting up-and-comers; this momentum eases the concerns for other starlets to sign on. The company declined, however, to clarify if there’s monetary compensation to secure talent, insisting that they proceed the same way as other magazines do.

With 10 issues a year available for free online and off (though only ASOS Premiere customers are delivered the print edition), ASOS Magazine is a branded publication blurring the lines between e-commerce and editorial in its part-catalogue, part-newsstand-worthy magazine.

What we can learn from ASOS Magazine

  • Branded publications must strike a careful balance of editorial and e-commerce. Otherwise, it is just a catalogue. ASOS fixed this problem by enlisting A-list talent and strong editorial pieces.
  • Online e-commerce-driven magazines can pinpoint the “success” of the branded magazine. For instance, if someone is looking at the magazine online and clicks through to purchase, that’s a clear indicator of success. With standalone print magazines, it’s harder to see the ROI.
  • Magazines with an e-commerce business model can still sell advertisements to supplement the costs.
  • With a “catalogue calendar,” brands must decide if they want their print magazines to be ephemeral or for coffee tables. Choosing between the two will greatly determine cost, circulation, distribution, and frequency.

Image: Amanda Vick/Unsplash

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