Ah, content…there was a time, maybe a year ago, when creating slideshows, essays, podcasts and videos was hardly grounds for raising an eight-figure funding round. In 2012, Refinery29 announced they would be pushing heavier into e-commerce, a la Thrillist, and would be looking to capitalize on data they had gathered about reader’s preferences.
The bet on e-commerce didn’t quite pan out; product sales account for only 5% of the site’s revenue, but founders Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano say that advertising has exploded, bolstered by over 11 million monthly unique visitors.
So what kind of “content” makes for a $20 million purse? As it were, a mix of fairly bespoke, unique articles and generic beauty tips — mostly in the form of slideshows. The current front page features interesting titles like “How (Exactly) To Look Like A French Girl” and a 31-slide presentation called “Everyone On TV Was Once On Dawson’s Creek,” as well as some expected pieces like ‘”Celeb Stylist Beauty Secrets!”
To say the article headlines remind me of BuzzFeed may be circuitous, since the most successful Internet headlines are often endlessly tested and iterated for maximum clickability. But Refinery29 is certainly no stranger to the “listification” strategy, and according to PandoDaily, will be investing more heavily in video in the coming months.
Oh yeah, and about that advertising…it pays to service a high-end audience. According to Business of Fashion, Refinery29 will pull in $24 million in advertising revenues this year. The site is also a shameless purveyor of native advertising, which they call “branded experiences”– ads masquerading as content and created in conjunction with retailers and fashion brands. Stefano has said that he thinks of the site as a ‘mini-agency,’ aiming to make their branded content as high-quality as the actual journalism.
This lax editorial standard may rub some old-school reporters a little funny, but fashion journalism does not have as staid a history of rigorous independence as, say, political journalism.
With its advertising-centric model, Refinery29 has comfortable enough margins to hire over 120 staffers, as well as outfitting an enviable Manhattan office, at a time when many content startups (like PandoDaily) turn to events and ‘conferences’ for ancillary revenue.
So is the secret sauce just high-end content and native advertising? Well…looks like it. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.