MediaFile

Mental Floss, a magazine that also sells products, expands

One of the hottest T-shirt designers on the market is a magazine.

Mental Floss, the 160,000 circulation magazine owned by publishing magnet Felix Dennis, derives one-third of its revenue from e-commerce, one-third from subscriptions and newsstand sales, and one-third from advertising.

Its T-shirt business represents about 40 percent of its e-commerce revenue.
On Tuesday, it unveiled its latest effort, T-shirt Tuesdays, where every week Mental Floss will reveal a new design to capitalize on one of its best selling products. Last year, Mental Floss sold about 40,000 T-shirts for $24.99 a pop.

Indeed, as the media industry struggles with a severe decline in advertising publications like Conde Nast’s Lucky and Gawker are delving further into the business of e-commerce. The idea is to tap into loyal audiences and subscribers and turn them into a ready-made market.

Mental Floss, a quirky publication covers such diverse subjects as sunken treasures to paper back books to operas based on Richard Nixon, is considered a pioneer of editorial merchandising, selling its readers products for the past decade.

Mental Floss founders Will Pearson and Mangesh Hattikudur Said in an interview with Reuters that the magazine’s T-shirt business already generates seven figures in revenue, but declined to be more specific. Some top selling T-shirts include “I’m no Rocket Surgeon” and “I’m an English Major, You Do the Math.”

Copious revamps social commerce service with a new twist

Pinterest has yet to provide many details about how it intends to make money from its fast-growing image-sharing social service.

But that’s not stopping others from trying to capitalize on the online service’s rich catalog of product images.

Copious, a social commerce start-up, launched a new version of its website on Monday that lets consumers buy many of the bags, shoes and other fashion accessories that get shared by Pinterest’s millions of users every day.

Google and AOL venture arms fund tool to track retail price changes

Most people wouldn’t be too pleased if they learned that the price of a digital camera suddenly dropped by $50 a few hours after they purchased it from the same online retailer.

Yet according to the creators of a new shopping tool called Shopobot, such price swings happen every week, sometimes every day, as retailers adopt more sophisticated techniques to test out different price points.

“The volatility is really being driven by these algorithmic approaches to pricing,” says Shopobot co-founder and CEO Julius Schorzman. “You have these automated systems that are trying to maximize revenue for retailers online.”

Is Groupon a savior or a destroyer?

By James Ledbetter

The opinions expressed are his own.

You could hardly imagine a starker contrast. The Wall Street Journal this week portrayed Groupon and rival group-purchasing sites as the ultimate friend of the small business owner. The Journal interviewed Cynthia Yee, who runs a Chinatown walking-tour business in San Francisco. Yee told the paper she’d participated in at least 7 “deal of the day” promotions in the last 18 months; Groupon alone sold a whopping 1700 vouchers for Yee’s service. Yee estimates that the deals brought in $25,000, and her trade has exploded to the point where she’s had to hire two assistants.

But that was not how things went for Posies Cafe in Portland, Oregon. In a lengthy series this month on TechCrunch, entrepreneur Rocky Agrawal has used Jessie Burke’s nightmare experience to paint Groupon not only as an unscrupulous exploiter of small business, but as a company built on a house of cards. (A lengthy video interview with Burke is below, and you can also read her blog account.)

 

These are only the most recent and prominent observers predicting that Groupon will fail, essentially because it is bad for businesses.

Mobile sales are helping eBay, but is it enough?

EBAY/eBay said Wednesday that the value of goods sold in the U.S. through its mobile applications surged 133% to $100 million during the month before Christmas. Globally, the growth was even stronger: Up 166% to $230 million worth of goods.

That is good news from one angle. eBay is having success using mobile devices to sell goods during the busiest retailing period of the year. But it obscures another fact: Mobile sales may be a growing market, but it’s a tiny portion of eBay’s overall sales. And overall sales don’t appear to be growing nearly as fast.

eBay’s Gross Merchandise Volume (the total value of all goods sold through eBay) was $48.3 billion in 2009, excluding car sales, and that figure is likely to top $50 billion in 2010. The $230 million GMV of mobile sales is equal to only 0.5% of eBay’s total GMV last year.

Will Facebook become a force in e-commerce, too?

USA-RETAIL/BLACKFRIDAYThe social graph that Facebook is slowly building has been extending its tentacles into different areas of the web – not just micro-publishing the thoughts of a user’s circle of friends, but also online videos, photos and email. One huge area that Facebook has been quiet in so far is e-commerce. But this holiday season, there are early signs that that is beginning to change.

Coremetrics, a web analytics company owned by IBM, recently looked at new trends in the annual shopping spree stretching from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. Among them, it found a nascent trend it called social shopping:

The growing trend of consumers using their networks on social sites for information about deals and inventory levels continued on Cyber Monday. While the percentage of visitors arriving from social network sites is fairly small relative to all online visitors—nearly 1 percent—it is gaining momentum, with Facebook dominating the space.

PayPal sees early promise from mobile experiment

jetpack2The “mobile wallet” concept has been bandied around for years as a promise that one day “soon” we’ll be able to leave our purses at home and pay for everything via the cellphone.
Of course we were also meant to to get to work using Jetpacks and have robots cleaning the house by now too.
However, with credit card companies and banks desperately looking at new avenues for growth, they’re starting to talk up mobile with a vengeance as they all battle  for a dominant place in the fledgling mobile payments industry.
And since they’re doing it, online payments provider PayPal has joined the fray because if consumers really want to move their lives to the cellphone, it can’t limit itself to the desktop.
Interestingly PayPal says it is seeing early signs of mobile success in an area where it looks to make an old fashioned bank service  – check cashing – more convenient.
The unit of eBay says it handled $100,000 in checks from its mobile customers in roughly a day and a half after it kicked off its mobile check cashing service, which allows you to add money to your PayPal account by just taking a cellphone photo of a physical check and using the PayPal mobile app.
Roughly a month later, PayPal says it processed over $1 million worth of checks.
This is a pittance in comparison with what banks handle — U.S. banks processed $30.6 billion of checks in 2006, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, implying $2.55 billion worth of checks every month.
Still PayPal is happy enough with the result that it is already looking for ways to improve the service, specifically by reducing the check-clearing window from six days, where it currently stands.
It  is also experimenting with other services aimed at expanding beyond eBay auctions and other online transactions where it is most popular.   One is allowing consumers to pay for goods in a store by using a mobile PayPal app on their phone, which would require the vendor as well as the consumer to open a PayPal account.
For this service PayPal says it has signed up 200 merchants in just a few weeks. In comparison the credit card industry has convinced retailers to install contactless payment terminals in all of 150,000 locations in about five years.
The idea with contactless payments is that you can wave your phone to pay instead of having to fumble in your wallet for a credit card. Paypal is also trying out this method for size via its partnership with a company called Bling Nation, which lets you spend from your PayPal account by slapping a “Bling” sticker to the outside of your phone and waving at the machine.
“We don’t know which will take off so we’re experimenting,” said Laura Chambers, a senior director for PayPa.l But she noted that “merchants aren’t excited about hardware upgrades.”
At a New York event where the company showcased their mobile services, a bunch of which were launched on October 6, Chambers said that this year would be a year of experiments for her company.
And since mobile operators have a direct relationship with their customers, Chambers said PayPal is also in talks with U.S. operators about how they can work together.  She would not disclose any details but said:  “There’s a great opportunity to replace the wallet and for the mobile phone to become the wallet.”

(Photo: Reuters – of American stuntman Eric Scott hovering over London using a Jetpack)