How Bustle plans to drive $3.5 million through commerce this year

Bustle’s Meghan Muntean will speak at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Key Biscayne, Florida, next month. For information on how to attend or sponsor the summit, click here.

By publishing articles chockfull of Amazon links for products like chafe-free leggings and shampoo with ginseng extract, Bustle has built another line of revenue by taking a cut of the sales it sends to the retail giant.

After making just $600,000 through commerce in 2016, Bustle expects that figure to grow to $3.5 million by year-end. Bustle began hiring people for a commerce team at the start of 2016, and the millennial women-focused site now has seven full-time people and a dozen independent contractors who focus on commerce, said Meghan Muntean, vp of commerce at Bustle.

This move comes at time when many publishers are exploring commerce to supplement their ad revenue. For example, BuzzFeed has a products lab that generated a best-selling cookbook and a plethora of candles, oils and cutting boards. The Daily Dot recently started making commerce-focused videos for SkyMall-type products. PopSugar will soon send sales offers to people via text and has article templates that let users shop directly from its website.

Bustle’s approach to commerce is more basic. It drives revenue by placing links into consumer product-related stories and then taking a cut from the retailer whenever the clicks turn into sales. Shampoo, leggings and makeup are a few of the products that Bustle has recently featured in its commerce-focused articles.

“A lot of big hitters in content and commerce have been doing it for a long time, and you don’t see a lot of new players coming out hard in this space,” Muntean said. “We are doing [commerce] in a way that is extremely simple.”

Four of the seven commerce staffers have editorial or branded-content experience, and they write the posts that include the affiliate links. At the start of the year, Bustle published fewer than 20 articles with affiliate links per week, Muntean said. Now, it publishes about 35 of these articles per week, and by the end of the year, it expects to publish about 70 per week.

Articles with affiliate links appear on Bustle and its sister site Romper. By year-end, these articles will also appear on Elite Daily, which Bustle acquired in April.

While Bustle takes a simpler approach to commerce than BuzzFeed or PopSugar, affiliate marketing remains the primary driver of commerce revenue for many publishers since few have the resources to invest in building product labs or their own digital marketplaces. Publishers like Hearst, USA Today and New York magazine rely on affiliate marketing for their commerce initiatives.

The other three people on Bustle’s commerce team focus on analytics and marketing. For analytics, trends in traffic data from Google and purchase data from Amazon determine which products Bustle will promote. The marketing is done through search ads that target keywords and paid social posts. The commerce team sits on the same floor as the business side of Bustle. About 200 people work for Bustle, with editorial making up about 45 percent of its workforce.

For about six months, Bustle ran direct deals with brands that would give the publisher a better cut than Amazon on the condition that Bustle would link directly to the brands’ websites. Although the revenue shares from these direct deals were preferable, fewer people bought products on the brands’ websites than on Amazon, so the deals didn’t gain traction.

While Bustle still occasionally does direct deals with brands, it now does the vast majority of its affiliate deals with Amazon and Skimlinks. Commissions from Amazon vary from 2 to 15 percent, depending on the category and popularity of the item being sold, Muntean said. Bustle declined to share the commission rates it gets from Skimlinks or the percentage of its overall revenue derived from affiliate links.

“We’re doing commerce in a way that any publisher can do it,” Muntean said. “And we’ve been profitable doing it this way.”

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