'Vogue', 'GQ' and Other Condé Nast Titles Will Be Paywalled by 2020

Welcome to the new media economy.
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Condé Nast’s front desk at One World Trade Center in New York City. Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Condé Nast’s front desk at One World Trade Center in New York City. Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images

The world of media has been deeply in flux in the past few years, with a rash of publications ceasing print operations and many others shutting down entirely. While there are a number of factors that contribute to the shift, a big part of it comes down to revenue. Ad dollars aren't what they used to be, and many publications are struggling to monetize their content in the digital age.

Behemoths like Condé Nast haven't been immune, in spite of their size. After last year saw the media conglomerate put three of its titles up for sale and cease print operations for others, the company is moving to a new strategy. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Condé Nast will be putting up paywalls on all of its titles – which include Vogue, GQ and Glamour — by the end of 2019. 

"The paywalls at each title will not be a one-size fits all model. Just as we did for each of the brands currently behind paywalls, we will let consumer demand and engagement dictate how each brand develops their paid content strategy," said Chief Executive Bob Sauerberg in an email shared with Fashionista. "Some brands may have specific content that will be gated, and some will have a wider metered paywall. Every brand is distinct, and every brand's paywall will be its own distinct product."

The company has already had the chance to test out the strategy with titles like The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired, all of which allow readers a few free articles a month and none of which have necessarily seen digital traffic drop significantly in response to their paywalls. In theory, the few-articles-a-month-for-free rule allows titles to grow their audiences by reaching new readers even as they charge regular fans of the content.

"In a sense, everything is free and nothing is free, depending on your consumption during a defined time period," Condé Nast’s Executive Vice President of Consumer Marketing Monica Ray told WSJ.

The news broke on the same day that Business of Fashion reported that Vogue Runway is charging some brands to post their collection images. According to the report, designers can pay $20,000 a year "pending Vogue editor approval" to have their photos posted to the online hub twice annually, where they will live alongside more established brands. Unlike sponsored content, which has to be disclosed by the publication, these paid-for collection images are not marked in any way that separates them from other lookbooks or runway shots that were not paid for by the brands.

Will these strategies combine to make Condé Nast, which lost $120 million in 2017 according to WSJ, profitable again by 2020? Only time will tell. What is certain, though, is that we've entered a new era in publishing.

This post has been updated throughout.

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