How Vogue monetizes old content

December 12, 2011
success with monetizing old New Yorker articles, is getting much more ambitious with Vogue, as Charlotte Cowles reports:

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Conde Nast, fresh off its success with monetizing old New Yorker articles, is getting much more ambitious with Vogue, as Charlotte Cowles reports:

Vogue’s much-hyped archive website goes live today, and as promised, it contains every single page from every issue dating back to the magazine’s American debut in 1892. According to Vogue’s press release, the site is searchable by decade, brand, designer, and photographer; you can also sort results by articles, images, covers, or ads. It’s a wildly impressive undertaking to organize such a massive amount of information, and bravo to Vogue for providing a great tool for researching the historical context of moments in fashion and society.

Cowles is stunned that subscribing to this archive will cost you $1,575 per year, but the price point makes sense to me. The value here is in the index: even if you had a full archive of Vogue back-issues sitting on your bookshelf (something many fashion-industry professionals spend much more than $1,575 to obtain), you still wouldn’t be able to find what you were looking for without great difficulty. The Vogue archive is that rarest of beasts: a fully searchable picture archive, which covers not only all the editorial content but all the advertisements as well.

The ad content alone is hugely valuable: it’s almost impossible, right now, to follow the course of, say, Dolce & Gabbana’s ad campaigns from inception to date, or to follow the career of a star model or photographer as they move back and forth between expensive editorial shoots and much more expensive ad shoots. The Vogue database even allows you to search by individual garment — again, giving you the opportunity to see how a certain pair of shoes, say, is portrayed in different contexts.

The people who really need this kind of information are professionals who happily spend $131 on lunch and will be equally happy to spend the same amount on a month’s access to the Vogue archives. And while the rest of us would have fun with the site if it were free, it’s hard to see how that would benefit Condé Nast would get a huge amount of benefit from our doing so. Meanwhile, the possibilities here are enormous, and revealing:

It’s possible to get lost in these archives. One can peruse a single issue, such as the April 1950 issue with Irving Penn’s famous cover of a swan-necked model in black netting. Data can be culled and analyzed, creating charts and graphs. I researched Coco Chanel, plotting out the high and low points of her career on a fever graph, based on the number of appearances her label had in ads and editorials.

When I graphed “Balenciaga,” I discovered that the brand is far more referenced today than it was when Cristobal Balenciaga was designing it post-World War II.

The only real reason that $1,575 per year seems expensive for this service is that we’re used to much larger and more valuable databases — the most salient, of course, is Google — being free. But I, for one, would shell out significantly more that $131 a month for access to Google if that were the only way I could access its database and if it didn’t have any real competitors.

Vogue is really two magazines in one: it’s a mass-market book for sale at supermarket checkout counters across the country, and at the same time it’s a very fashion-insidery bible which has featured every major designer, photographer, model, and ad campaign in the industry for longer than anyone can remember. The Vogue Archive is a way of monetizing the trade-mag part of Vogue’s identity without alienating any of the readers in flyover country.

As with any new digital project, there’s going to be a period of price discovery here. Condé has set the initial price at $1,575 per year; depending on demand at that price, it could easily go up or down in future. But I like the ambition here. Legacy media properties are often hobbled when they move online, by the constraints of their old business. It’s great to see them turn those constraints from a bug into a potential highly-lucrative feature.


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