For many publishers, e-commerce is a way of diversifying revenue streams in the face of dwindling ad sales. For Gay Times, e-commerce has helped it avoid folding: It’s the title’s fastest-growing revenue stream and has initiated more commercial partnerships with retailers.
In March, CEO James Frost bought Gay Times from parent company Millivres Prowler for £250,000 ($318,000). Frost has since invested an additional £500,000 ($636,000) to help bring the 35-year-old print title up to speed with competitors like Attitude, while keeping his eye on the bottom line.
“Every touch point is an opportunity to sell something,” he said, explaining that as part of the transition, the site has split out new verticals in money, fitness, travel and video, making it a more suitable environment for advertisers and e-commerce. “It’s a stable of brand extensions,” he added. “I want to make the brand pervasive.”
The team is small, with 13 full-time staff, three of whom are new commercial hires, including commercial director Christopher Kenna. Early results are encouraging: Frost said Gay Times’ commercial revenue doubled last month. As it stands, one-third of its revenue comes from print subscriptions and newsstands, and one-third is from ads and commercial sales. Events and e-commerce supply the rest.
In six months, e-commerce has grown from zero to one-fifth of the publisher’s total revenue. Frost predicts it will provide one-third of Gay Times’ revenue by year’s end, buoyed by launching commerce capabilities in the U.S. and a dedicated shopping app that will debut in the next few months. Gay Times sells over 2 million items, ranging from technology to sportswear to luxury home items, aggregated into feeds from about a hundred different merchants, including John Lewis, Asos and Topshop, shown as a searchable catalog. Users are directed to the retailer’s site to carry out sales.
By year’s end, Frost predicts Gay Times will facilitate £1 million ($1.27 million) a month in e-commerce sales. Last month, it sold about £700,000 ($891,000) in goods.
Gay Times has white-labeled the tech platform from shopping platform Octer, a company in which Frost also invests, which takes the strain off the small publisher, but also means it hands over half of its 5 percent commission from merchants to Octer.
Rarely do publishers handle the operational side of e-commerce, opting instead for affiliate link models and revenue shares with retailers, although players like BuzzFeed have acquired companies to manufacture and ship products.
For Gay Times, the most popular line items are clothes; items from retailer Asos made up £270,000 ($344,000) of last month’s sales. This encouraged the commercial team to approach Asos for a campaign for New York City Pride at the end of June. For the campaign, Gay Times has recruited seven creators, each one with an artistic background (including art, music and tattooing), from its own social platforms. (Gay Times has 1.5 million Facebook followers.) During the Pride March, the creators will each host their own 30-minute live stream talking about their lives in the context of Pride and New York. The videos will be co-branded with Asos and will overlay the retailer’s shop-the-look feature.
“This shows the way we have changed the position of our portfolio,” said Frost, adding it’s a far cry from selling pages in a magazine.
Gay Times also sends a weekly shopping newsletter to 50,000 people featuring five of the most-read style guides of the week. These are created by a dedicated member of the four-person editorial team and include tips like three wears to make black work this summer or 10 sportswear pieces that work in and out of the gym, with the items presented for purchase below the article.
The title is venturing into vacations, too. Half of the 19 spots are already booked for the first trip, a cruise in Croatia during October. Gay Times gets 10 percent of the commission from these trips, and the rest goes to partner Focus Travel. “We drive the itineraries of the holidays using our experience,” said Frost. “Otherwise, why bother booking with us?”
Frost said the jury is still out on how successful selling trips will be at driving revenue. It has already tried — and failed — to sell a three-day wine-tasting tour in Italy, which cost around £1,500 ($1,900). “I think it was too rich for people’s appetites,” he said. “We have to be able to scale it. If something doesn’t work, we’ll move on.”