For W Magazine’s September cover story featuring Rihanna, the text is not a story or an interview, but a screenplay written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Inside the magazine’s pages, full page photographs feature Rihanna imagined as a queen in a post apocalyptic world created by photographer Steven Klein and creative and fashion director, Edward Enninful.
On its website, there’s a slide show of the cover shoot’s images, videos which offer a behind the scenes glimpse of the shoot and guest art director Terry Jones discussing his method, as well as designer sketches of the clothing made for the shoot, among other digital-only content. On Instagram, two separate GIFs were created for the two different magazine covers, exclusively for the platform.
The central idea of the September issue is transformation, a metaphor for what the publication is also experiencing in its big shift to digital.
Magazine publishers everywhere are pouring resources into digital, and the Condé Nast-owned W magazine is no different: Over the past 12 months, it quadrupled its team from four to 16. One of the main focuses of W’s digital strategy, led by publisher and chief revenue officer Lucy Kriz, is on tailoring content to social platforms like Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat, rather than spreading the same web story across all. “We’re meeting consumers where they’re consuming content,” Kriz said. And more than half — 52 percent — of W’s readers are consuming that content on mobile.
W magazine’s digital team is led by an executive digital director, with directors for editorial, features and news, as well as a head for video and social media. The digital team produces up to 25 pieces of original content a day, from quick and timely news stories on fashion and style, like “Jane Fonda’s wardrobe is for sale,” to longer culture pieces, like “How a young photographer went from school to shooting Kylie and Kendall Jenner.” W magazine had almost a million visitors to its site in June and 973,000 last month, according to comScore.
Aside from its own site, Instagram is a primary focus, said Kriz. The team is creating Instagram-specific series such as #PrettyLiteral, where W’s beauty editors create an artistic interpretation of a beauty trend. It’s an alternative to the ubiquitous makeup tutorial and a point of differentiation for W in the medium. With 2.1 million followers, its Instagram page is filled with highly produced, quality images and videos of fashion shoots, models and celebrities.
“We focus on quality, not quantity,” Kriz said. Its videos mainly feature celebrities who are being covered in some way in a print story. One of its most popular on Facebook, with 10.5 million views, was a range of celebrities including Kristin Wig and Saoirse Ronan putting their own spin on Drake’s song, “Hot Line Bling.” W mag is also on SnapChat, where its strategy is to leverage influencers and celebrities at events, like Iris Apfel at NYFW.
Fashion and luxury publications have flooded Instagram and Facebook with images of models, clothing, beauty products and “how to” tutorials — which has made standing out a challenge. But where W magazine stands apart from its competitors is in its artistic nature and creativity.
“They’re in a unique position to utilize Instagram because they’re not a typical fashion magazine, but more of an art and fashion one,” said magazine analyst Samir Husni. He said its strategy to create content for different platforms is noticeable, and a smart move. “They’re not giving you the same thing as in print, they’re complimenting content,” which satisfies consumers rather than overwhelming them with more of the same content, he said.
One of the greatest challenges for publishers in today’s digital environment is figuring out how to monetize content. While print is still a main vein for luxury and fashion advertising — with luxe advertisers spending 60 percent of their 2015 budgets with print, according to Zenith media — that’s predicted to change. In the U.S magazine market, ad spending is forecast to drop from $16.6 billion this year to $15.2 billion 2018, with digital predicted to take the biggest ad share by next year.
Half of W magazine’s digital revenue comes from branded content for luxury brands, from Coach and Dior, to Air France, which is created by W. Examples include Instagram-specific GIFs for a new Dior handbag and a recent piece sponsored by Air France features a series of 10 high quality photos of model Natalie Ludwig on her way to a job in France.
As publishers explore ways to become more than just content producers in digital, and connect with audiences, W magazine is looking to a daily email newsletter, due to launch this fall. The idea, again, is not necessarily to drive readers to its website, but offer content where people want it.