Media Briefing: Publishers prepare for an earlier holiday shopping season

shopping laptop

This Media Briefing covers the latest in media trends for Digiday+ members and is distributed over email every Thursday at 10 a.m. ET. More from the series →

This week’s Media Briefing looks at how publishers are tailoring their affiliate commerce content strategies this quarter to match retailers’ bullish efforts to kick off the shopping period in October.

  • Tis the season for sales
  • Negotiation table-setting
  • Recurrent Ventures lays off 52 staffers, TikTok is launching live shopping in the U.S., and more

Tis the season for sales

The key hits: 

  • Retailers are trying to make October the primary shopping period for this holiday season to beat the impact of inflation on shoppers’ wallets.
  • Publishers like Gallery Media Group are adjusting the timelines of their affiliate commerce content to accommodate these new shopping events. 
  • Meanwhile Future is reformatting its product recommendation content after finding its audience is in search of a good deal.  

October appears to be the unofficial kickoff to the holiday shopping season this year thanks to several retailers, including Amazon, Walmart and Target, launching multi-day sales events, all of which are taking place during the next two weeks: 

  • Target Deal Days is running Oct. 6 through Oct. 8
  • Wayfair’s 5 Days of Deals is taking place Oct. 7 through Oct. 11
  • Walmart’s Deals for Days is running from Oct. 10 through Oct. 13
  • Amazon Prime Day (the second one this year) is happening Oct. 11 through Oct. 12
  • Best Buy is starting its “Black Friday” discounts on Oct. 19 

But for publishers who bank on the affiliate commerce revenue driven by Black Friday and Cyber Monday (what are typically the marquee shopping days for consumers), this means the timeline for holiday-related commerce content has needed to move up as well – or else they run the risk of losing out on thousands of dollars worth of commissions. 

Take the first Amazon Prime Day of the year, which took place just three months ago in July. Future sold 347,000 products during the two-day period through its commerce coverage, totaling $26.4 million in total U.S. sales. ​​Hearst’s total Amazon Prime Day sales were up 87% year over year. Meanwhile, Leaf Group’s home and lifestyle publication Hunker experienced an increase of 130% year over year in revenue earned from Prime Day, while its wellness and lifestyle site Well+Good saw its Prime Day revenue increase by 120%. 

“These are really important days for our business,” said Ryan Harwood, CEO of Gallery Media Group, which publishes PureWow and One37pm. “These are moments to make spurts of revenue that aren’t necessarily planned for that could definitely change the landscape of Q4 revenue.” 

And publishers’ commerce businesses could use any sort of unexpected revenue this year given the slowdown of online shopping and rising inflation, which is making consumers think twice about their spending habits. 

As such, Future ran an audience survey of 2,676 people in June this year to figure out exactly how early its readers will begin holiday shopping this year to both inform content strategy as well as advertising strategy in the fourth quarter. The research found that inflation has caused consumers to look for more deals than in years past and to start their shopping earlier to beat price hikes, with 45% of respondents already having purchased some amount of holiday gifts. 

This research was conducted before retailers announced their October shopping events, but based on respondents’ sentiments around Black Friday this year – about 75% of shoppers plan on spending the same or more money this Black Friday compared to last year – these discounted shopping days will be a warm welcome. 

Future chief revenue officer Zack Sullivan said the publisher’s content teams have already started modifying their commerce articles to focus on the best value product rather than the best overall performing product, which could cost more money.

“People aren’t quite making that single big purchase in the same way. They are looking for the best deals, and so we’ve been able to change our content approach to reflect that, and it’s actually paying dividends for us,” said Sullivan. 

Gallery Media Group started planning for its holiday shopping content in August and kicked off production in September after seeing record sales from retailer events like Prime Day and Way Day (Wayfair’s tentpole sales event that took place April 27-28), according to Emily Kerr, the company’s svp of growth. This included investing more into editorial resources and increasing content output, though she declined to share exact year-over-year comparisons. 

As of now, Kerr said her team is planning to cover at least 10 retailer shopping events this season. 

“It’s like a content flywheel in the sense that [covering these shopping events is] good for our brand in general. It’s good for SEO. It’s good for traffic. It’s good for affiliate revenue,” said Gallery Media Group’s Harwood. And together, “it gives you an added incentive to really increase the output during that time frame.” 

Kerr added that, while she’s expecting the same big spikes in traffic and conversions during this season’s shopping events, “we’ve also seen in the past that shoppers get sale fatigue when there are too many big events in close succession.” 

Plus, with the uncertainty of a recession on the horizon and inflation’s impact on holiday shopping budgets, both Kerr and Harwood said that total commerce revenue earned from this period is hard to predict. 

What we’ve heard

“I can facilitate revenue growth by being client-centric and agnostic of business. I can take one client and have a conversation across the pond and not separate between B2B subscription or media solutions. My motivation is growth, but not specifically one versus the other because they complement each other.”

Nicolas Sennegon, Politico EU’s chief revenue officer on the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast, discussing increasing the ARPU of clients and subscribers

Negotiation table-setting

The return to office (RTO) has been a major priority within negotiations between media companies’ unions and management in the past year. But despite more companies issuing decrees that employees work in the office at least a few days a week, unions’ other focuses, like pay and benefits, have bubbled back up to the surface of these discussions. 

Unions often have to come to the bargaining table with three to five priorities that are a “have to have,” said Jack Dickey, local representative at the NewsGuild of New York, which represents The New York Times. Since the pandemic, remote work has become one of those priorities, which has “necessitated us being creative with our bargaining approach,” he added.

“What we try to do in these fights [is we] try to make sure that return to office doesn’t stop us from having substantive discussions with the employer,” Dickey said. “We don’t want the employers to bog us down on this particular issue.” 

Media unions are actively negotiating with company management on other topics such as pay, benefits, hours, DE&I language, expanding hiring pools and banning the use of metrics in evaluating workers (such as traffic).

The New York Times’ union seems to be using RTO almost as a leverage point to get what they want. Members have communicated that they will not take part in a mandatory return until they have a complete contract, Dickey said. The Times Guild is in the process of organizing sub-committees to meet and address other issues as well. The Guild is actively fighting for pay raises and an improved and equitable performance review process.

“We talk about a whole bunch of things at the same time,” a Times Guild member said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Unions affiliated with WGA, East are “currently engaged in multiple negotiations where return-to-office policies are on the table,” a WGA spokesperson said in an email. “Negotiating RTO policies remains a priority at a number of newsrooms.“ WGA is also working to complete open contracts where issues like salary and benefits are still on the table, they said. — Sara Guaglione

Numbers to know

3: The number of longtime C-suite execs to leave The Washington Post this year. Former chief product officer Kat Downs Mulder is joining Yahoo News as its svp and general manager. In July, The Post’s former chief communications officer and general manager of events, Kristine Coratti Kelly, joined CNN and in September, the media company’s former tech and data chief Shailesh Prakash joined Google.

52: The number of employees Recurrent Ventures laid off this week, which affected editorial and commerce roles within The Drive, Saveur, Popular Science and Task & Purpose brands, per Adweek.

DPS in review

The September 2022 edition of the Digiday Publishing Summit brought executives to Key Biscayne, Fla., to discuss the state of the media business. 

In the video below, Digiday’s media team recaps their top takeaways from the event, and media executives in attendance share the opportunities, challenges and industry trends that are top of mind for them at the moment.

Video and editing by senior media editor Tim Peterson.

What we’ve covered

How sportsbooks and publishers are rethinking the terms of content-based sponsorships:

  • The start of the American football season is like ringing in the new year for the sports betting industry and this latest season seems to mark a new austerity era for dealings between sportsbooks and publishers.
  • The marketing budgets that some sportsbooks are working with are a lot leaner than before.

Read more about the evolution of sports betting content partnerships here.

A year after coming under Axel Springer’s control, Politico’s Europe and North American businesses are closer than ever:

  • Despite sharing a brand name and founder — Robert Allbritton — Politico U.S. and EU have operated as separate businesses until earlier this year. 
  • Now, Politico EU’s chief revenue officer Nicolas Sennegon said the Washington, D.C.-based and Brussels-based teams have developed global ambitions.

Listen to the latest episode of the Digiday Podcast with Sennegon here

How publishers can prevent cyberattacks after Fast Company’s hack:

  • A hacking scheme that hit Fast Company on Sept. 27 has kept the website dark for nearly a week as executives investigate. 
  • The event should be taken as a warning sign to other publishers to take cybersecurity seriously, three current and former heads of technology at media companies told Digiday.

Read more about cybersecurity for publishers here.

Media employees face no consequences for ignoring return-to-office requests — yet:

  • Despite increasing calls for staff to come back to the office this fall, many employees at media companies say they haven’t faced any repercussions for ignoring those requests.
  • The lack of enforcement of these policies is likely due in part to unions’ pushback.

Read more about how publishers are handling the return to office struggle here

What we’re reading

TikTok will launch live shopping in the U.S.:

TikTok has been talking with third-party shopping technology platform TalkShopLive to build out live shopping on its social platform, according to the Financial Times. This comes just three months after the FT reported TikTok was abandonning its plans to expand livestream shopping in Europe and the U.S. 

Facebook is shutting down its newsletter service Bulletin: 

Meta announced it is shuttering Facebook’s newsletter subscription service, Bulletin, by early next year, according to The New York Times. The service, launched in June 2021, was meant to rival Substack’s model.

The New York Daily News shifts focus back to local news:

A memo went out to the newspaper’s staffers this week stating editorial priorities will be to cover local news, according to Axios. This change is reportedly supported by the paper’s new owners, Alden Global Capital, however the hedge fund has a history of firing journalists at local papers to maximize profits.

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