Time Out has dabbled in affiliate relations with booking engines for years, but in 2016 it launched more events and rolled out a custom e-commerce platform. The result: Last year, Time Out’s e-commerce revenue reached £4.7 million ($6.1 million), an increase of 45 percent year over year. This came from 300,000 transactions, a year-over-year increase of 21 percent. Time Out Group, which includes the digital business and Time Out Markets, pulled in annual revenues of £37.1 million ($47.9 million).
“E-commerce is a small but growing revenue stream, but you can scale it globally,” said Christine Petersen, Time Out Digital’s CEO. “As a 50-year-old business, we are already global, but we are working to stitch the pieces together.”
Time Out runs e-commerce in London, Paris, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, but the group has a presence in 108 cities. Traditionally, Time Out’s e-commerce model has paired restaurant and event reviews written by its journalists with feeds from companies like OpenTable and Encore Tickets, so people can easily carry out a purchase, with Time Out taking a cut.
For instance, Time Out was the first to announce the transfer of actor Andrew Scott’s “Hamlet” to the West End. It was the show’s first vendor and had tickets exclusively for 24 hours. The show was one of its best performers in ticket sales, according to the company, although it was unable to provide specific figures.
Beyond this, a key contributor to the growth in e-commerce revenue has been building out Time Out Live events. In 2016, Time Out arranged and sold tickets in London and in cities across the U.S. for 250 Live events (up from the 180 in 2015), which over 80,000 people attended. In the U.K., silent discos at unusual buildings, like The Shard or the Natural History Museum, always sell out. “It’s about offering quirky, insightful viewpoints of that city,” said Petersen.
Time Out is one of a number of publishers that are developing some form of e-commerce strategy that plays to their strengths. For instance, Dennis, publisher of auto magazines like Auto Express and Land Rover Monthly, is selling cars online. BuzzFeed, after acquiring Product Labs, has expanded its product line to ship scented candles and cosmetics, taking inspiration from Facebook comments. Time Out’s reputation as a city guide puts it in a good position to convert readers into buyers.
In June, Time Out began trading publicly, raising £84 million ($108 million) to grow the business. Part of this was invested into improving its custom e-commerce platform, which was built by events company YPlan, acquired by Time Out in October 2016. This allows readers to carry out transactions on Time Out’s pages, rather than linking through to outside sites. The company is just beginning to use this data to understand the behavior of what makes people carry out a purchase, Petersen said.
Time Out has a team within Time Out Digital that works on e-commerce, but the company was unable to share the head count for competitive reasons.
Increasingly, matching up content with e-commerce links is becoming more automated. Time Out’s custom Match Maker tool matches Time Out content with feeds from a dozen or so e-commerce partners, whether that’s shows, restaurants, attractions or hotels. “We’re always looking for a way for the consumer to transact,” said Petersen.
For the last year, it’s pushed further into hotel bookings using list-type articles like “The best hotels in NYC” and “The 100 best hotels in London,” which has meant that the company is getting higher value per transaction.
“We’ll never get rid of the independence of the editorial team,” said Petersen, “but I want them to lend their creative flare to a headline or email copy. We have that tension internally — that’s fine; I actually want that.”
Broadly speaking, the Time Out audience is broken into three groups: a third from the local city, a third from the greater metropolitan area and a third from completely outside the metropolitan area.
“These people are logical candidates for a hotel,” said Petersen. “From quantitative analysis, we have found that 95 percent of our audience does something as a result of connecting with our brand, (whether that is online or in print); that’s a phenomenal upside for commerce.”