PopSugar’s new direct revenue play is a marketplace for workout tutorials

Lifestyle publishers need to rethink the relationships they have with their audiences if they want to grow direct reader revenue. A new PopSugar endeavor reconsiders its relationship to both its readers and to influencers.

There’s no such thing as a Shopify for fitness influencers yet, but PopSugar is hoping to change that.

This week, the digital lifestyle publisher plans to announce the launch of Glow, a type of marketplace for fitness goods and classes offered by fitness influencers and by PopSugar itself.

More than 50 influencers are offering products for sale on Glow right now, ranging from PDFs of workouts to yearly subscriptions to video classes to workout gear. There are over 1,000 total items for sale on the platform. PopSugar takes a 25% cut of every sale made on Glow.

Glow gives PopSugar an opportunity to forge deeper relationships with the influencers who represent real competition to many lifestyle publishers. It also puts them in the position of having to work with peers and competitors.

At present, a small portion of the wares available in Glow are made by PopSugar Studios, a video team located in Los Angeles, and some of the influencers grew out of programs that PopSugar Studios developed. But over the long term, PopSugar hopes this grows into something that functions more like a platform or a marketplace than a publisher content-focused product.

“We hope that the size and scale of the platform gets too large where we can’t support it,” PopSugar founder Brian Sugar said.“[Creating content in collaboration with influencers] helps us learn about creating viable content and helping produce it.”

Sugar got the idea last year after Molly Goodson, the co-founder of co-working and fitness startup The Assembly, asked Sugar, who sits on The Assembly’s board, to build a Shopify- or Etsy-like product for the Assembly’s instructors.

Further encouragement came when a skunkworks team at PopSugar Studios, the publisher’s video unit down in Los Angeles, decided to sell a series of video classes directly to its readers, and sold over 5,000 in less than a month.

So last August, at a companywide hackathon that PopSugar holds every year, a four-person group led by Sugar began piecing together a basic version. After scrapping an earlier version that took several cues from Twitter, which Sugar said “totally sucked,” PopSugar soft-launched Glow in the spring of 2019.

PopSugar has hired two people to work exclusively on Glow, including a director of business development and a head of brand management, whose job it is to ensure that Glow is promoted as aggressively and thoughtfully as possible across PopSugar’s channels. Sugar said that a head of community, who will look to nurture the relationships between influencers and customers, is at the top of a list of priorities.

PopSugar has launched its fair share of commerce-related products, including most recently a text-to-buy product called Must Have It, its own line of branded products through Ulta, and shopping-optimized mobile page formats. The company earns 20% of its revenues from non-advertising sources, said Sugar.

While some publishers have been hiring people to support product labs, which help develop digital and physical consumer products either for their own editorial brands or for big-spending advertising partners, others have begun moving into the unfamiliar territory of building and selling products to competitors. The Washington Post and Vox Media, for example, have been on hiring sprees trying to win market share for their CMSes, which they are selling to advertisers and brands alike.

To promote Glow, Sugar said that there will be classes recommended at the foot of every PopSugar story that focuses on fitness, based on that story’s metadata tags. PopSugar Fitness will have dedicated space on its homepage for Glow, and its Fitness Instagram account will run weekly promotions.

In addition to its own channels, PopSugar will have two different kinds of influencers promoting Glow. There are the influencers selling their own wares through the platform, instructors at a number of popular fitness companies, including SoulCycle, Barry’s Boot Camp and Rumble, all have biography pages where people can log in and rate them as instructors. Over time, the plan is to let instructors open their own storefronts.

While fitness influencers big and small have embraced the opportunity to sell goods and services directly to their social followers, PopSugar will have to be choosy about who’s allowed onto Glow if it wants to succeed, said Karen Koslow, the founder of Wellness Amplified, an agency that works with brands and fitness influencers.

The most popular or authoritative influencers, Koslow said, might give Glow a try, but they might not stick around over the long term if they see the wrong kinds of people. “They don’t want to be lumped in with every chick in cute leggings that’s just there to sell merch,” Koslow said.


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