Pinpricks: Why Pinterest and publishers aren’t getting along


Pinterest and publishers should be a match made in heaven. One wants to be a utilitarian hub for inspiration and ideas. The other wants to build, then monetize direct relationships centered around the passions of readers. Both should happily provide raw material for one another in a virtuous cycle.

But it hasn’t quite worked out that way. Despite the fact that Pinterest has rolled out several products that could help publishers, and some publishers have begun committing more resources to the platform, the slipper hasn’t fit. “They don’t understand publishers, and they don’t care,” one publishing CEO said, who requested anonymity. “Working with publishers is not a priority of theirs.”

While platforms and publishers haven’t always gotten along, they have long served purposes for one another, and most of them, even newcomers like Snapchat, have cobbled together partnership teams with dedicated units of people that are there to connect with publishers directly.

Pinterest is a bit different. Its partnerships team, dedicated to creators of all sorts, has no unit assigned to publishers in particular. Asked about this, a Pinterest spokesperson wrote that the company believes “it’s more effective and scaleable to have a variety of teams connecting with publishers across different programs.”

All the publishers contacted for this story had dedicated reps at Pinterest they could reach out to with questions, yet few said the answers they got back were especially helpful. “We’ve yet to find anyone over there who can actually talk to you about driving organic traffic,” said Kristen Maxwell Cooper, the executive director of digital and social at XO Group, which has nearly 400,000 followers on Pinterest spread across its accounts for The Knot, The Bump and The Nest. “From what I understand, they really only have people that are dedicated to paid partnerships.”

Granted, platforms have never been less interested in helping direct users off their properties. And Pinterest may not have a dedicated publishers team because many publishers have little use for its platform. For publishers that don’t focus on fashion, food, design or the other core areas of interest for Pinterest’s largely female user base, it’s a bad fit. Over 50 percent of the publishers tracked by social analytics firm get less than one half of 1 percent of their monthly traffic from the platform; just 1.5 percent of the publishers tracks get even 10 percent of their traffic from there.

Pin the (long) tail
But for those that do get something, Pinterest has become a lot more intriguing lately. Because most of Pinterest’s users visit with a specific intent, its large audience can be segmented and sold to more efficiently than an audience consuming news content; a client study conducted two years ago found that Pinterest drove more revenue per click than any other platform, or search.

With more publishers hot to form direct connections with their readers, and sell things to them, those things suddenly matter more. “Pinterest has kind of replaced search, in a lot of ways,” said Tracy Cho, the executive director of growth and analytics for Domino. “People are really using it the same way as Google.”

Cho doesn’t have a huge team working on Pinterest — just one full-time staffer, with plans to hire a second, coordinator-level person this year — but since they began creating content specifically for the platform late last year, Cho said that traffic from Pinterest is up nearly 400 percent, year-over-year. SimilarWeb data suggests that Domino is now getting more desktop referral traffic from Pinterest than Facebook or Google; Cho wouldn’t provide hard traffic numbers for this story.

The prospect of a second stream of search data, which could help stand up new sources of revenue, has intrigued other publishers too. Kate Spies, the vp of audience development at Bauer Xcel Media, said she hopes that Pinterest could wind up accounting for one-third of her titles’ referral traffic, and she said the Pinterest visits she’s getting already are being put to use: the data she gets from Pinterest referrals will help build an interest graph that will eventually power an e-commerce strategy.

But even with seven people working on the platform – one per title – Spies said she has trouble figuring out what’s working there, and what isn’t. “It’s very much a black box to us,” Spies said. “It’s very hard to decipher whether it’s what we’re doing or what they’re doing [that’s driven success].”

This lack of communication is strange when you consider that Pinterest has been busy launching products that publishers would be only too happy to use. In October, it announced the launch of a product called the Pin Collective, which was designed to connect top pinners with brands to help create branded content, another growing area of interest to publishers. It debuted with four publisher launch partners, including Refinery29, Tastemade and PureWow. Six months later, it has only managed to bring on two more, despite the fact that many publishers are interested in trying it.

In February, when it debuted Shop the Look, which is designed to make pins shoppable, it rolled the tool out to companies like Olapic, which work with brands on user-generated content.

Pinterest has a history of taking its time, and that same deliberative quality may be on display here. But while it takes its time, plenty of publishers are eager to give them a try. “I think it’s something we should be utilizing,” Cooper said.

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