Beauty industry coverage is undergoing a renaissance
A new class of beauty publications is popping up, driving a refreshed and potentially impactful perspective on beauty coverage.
In Dec. 2022, System, the bi-annual fashion title launched in 2013, announced a new bi-annual beauty publication called System Beauty. In January, Business of Fashion relaunched its Business of Beauty vertical after first debuting in April 2018, and in early February, Highsnobiety announced its expansion into beauty. Most recently, in early March, Air Mail formally announced the expansion of its beauty coverage via Air Mail Look in a standalone digital vertical.
The backdrop and perhaps irony of these launches is the cyclical nature of the media industry, which has gone through its fair share of closures, consolidations, pivots and other cost-cutting strategies. WWD, via its analysis of 50 U.S.-based titles, found in 2022 that 52% had a lower print frequency in 2022 compared to 2019, while another 10 had completely ceased print operations. The publication noted that not all were directly linked to the pandemic, with some occurring before March 2020; the decline of print publishing far proceeded Covid-19. WWD itself ceased daily print publication in 2015. Certain notable publications like Lucky, Nylon Guys and Men’s Fitness have folded since 2015. Over time, a hole was left in the coverage of the $100 billion U.S. beauty industry, particularly regarding the intersection between beauty and culture, which anyone reading this knows is changing at lightning speed. And now publishers are seeing the whitespace opportunity.
“Highsnobiety understands that beauty is as simple as a toothbrush and as complicated as culture,” said Willa Bennett, editor-in-chief of Highsnobiety. “After becoming editor-in-chief seven months ago, the editorial team and I spent a lot of time discussing what expansions made sense for a global youth-style platform. Through those conversations, we all agreed that no one was covering beauty in a way that felt right. If we [are] going to champion personal style authentically, launching Highsnobiety Beauty was inevitable.”
Alexandra Pauly, formerly Highsnobiety’s style editor, was appointed its first-ever Beauty Editor. Bennett did not address whether additional hires would be made. Highsnobiety was founded in 2005 as a global digital fashion and lifestyle media brand, and was purchased by German e-commerce giant Zalando in 2022. Highsnobiety Shop, a multi-brand online fashion and lifestyle retailer, was launched in 2019.
Affiliate commerce is also a huge opportunity for the perpetually cash-strapped media landscape, and beauty is the perfect shopping fodder. According to Digiday, 43% of 135 publishers in 2020 said that affiliate commerce was not a source of revenue for their companies. By the beginning of 2021, that number had fallen to about 34%. And publishers of all sizes have embraced the theoretically easy money strategy. In 2021, then-Meredith (now Dotdash Meredith), which owns publications like Real Simple, Better Homes & Gardens, Byrdie and InStyle reported in its second-quarter 2020 earnings that it made $27.7 million from its e-commerce operations, a 26% year-over-year increase, according to the same Digiday story. Glossy itself introduced affiliate commerce via the Pop Shop in Aug. 2022.
“Beauty has always been something that people want to act on, so when you read a beauty story, you want to buy the thing being written about,” said Linda Wells, editor of Air Mail Look. “It’s a great way for publications to make additional revenue. But you have to ensure you don’t lose your editorial judgment and discretion when picking products to write about.”
Since 2021 media and beauty veteran Wells began writing for Air Mail, the digital weekly newsletter founded in 2019 by former Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter. According to Axios, the publication isn’t yet profitable but will bring in more than $15 million in annual revenue in 2023. AirMail offers an $80 annual subscription, but for now, Look will remain free on the site, where it can help Air Mail drive advertising revenue. Most of Air Mail’s advertising, representing 42% of its overall revenue, comes from luxury advertisers, aligning well with beauty. Air Mail Look focuses on a mix of provocative and entertaining stories, with a mix of service-oriented pieces, too. Wells is not actively hiring for additional beauty coverage.
“[When I began] I wanted to do fewer stories that you would read in a more typical woman’s magazine,” said Wells. “In every case, I wanted to connect with cultural touchstones, cultural habits and people’s behavior so that it wasn’t just beauty in isolation.”