NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Conde Nast will shut down one of its web-only brands, Men.Style.com, when it gives two of its titles, GQ and Details, their own websites in October.
The move marks a partial dismantling of Conde Nast's strategy of creating web-only brands to house magazine content, such as Style.com, Epicurious.com and Concierge.com, and the realization that in many cases the best brand for the web is the one that's been successful in print.
The move comes in the midst of a terrible advertising climate and companywide budget cuts, and on the heels of the repositioning of one of its men's titles, Men's Vogue, as a twice-a-year supplement late last year.
Indeed, Conde Nast Digital president Sarah Chubb said Conde Nast couldn't justify three men's fashion titles on the web, and it didn't really make sense to do so because lifestyle content from GQ was already the main traffic driver for Men.Style.com. Further, the view among Conde Nast execs is that a unified print-web brand will be an easier sell to brand advertisers.
"GQ's brand strength is the strongest at Conde Nast," Ms. Chubb said. "It made sense to us to consolidate under GQ because we had a hard time branding it on its own away from Style.com."
After the launch of both sites, Men.Style.com traffic will refer to GQ.com, giving it a nice head start, and Men.Style.com staffers will move to GQ.com. Details will get the traffic already going to Men.Style.com via Details.com.
But the rebranding of Men.Style.com, which launched in 2005, raises questions about the fate Conde Nast's other web-only properties, especially Style.com itself.
Style.com, launched as an umbrella brand for Conde Nast fashion content in 2001, has had the benefit of referrals from Vogue.com. But Glamour already has its own site, and Vogue is set to get its own site in 2010. That was supposed to happen this year, but plans were pushed out until 2010.
The strategy for the past two years has been to give all Conde Nast magazine titles their own eponymous websites, but due to budget restraints, those website launches were spaced out, and some were delayed. Editors who were aloof to the web when Conde Nast started pursuing its current digital strategy a decade ago now chafe at not controlling their own web destinies, and cast jealous eyes on the millions spent on the now-shuttered Portfolio.com and the remake of Wired.com.
Both Details and GQ have branded sections within Men.Style.com, but Details Editor-in-chief Dan Peres said it's been increasingly tough to run a magazine without the web.
"Our hands were tied in that we weren't able to update the site more than once a month," he said. "Frankly, it's been a bit of a weakness, so this is great news for us and our readers.
For now, Ms. Chubb said Style.com is safe. It's a different site from Men.Style.com in that its users consume far more content on the site (55 pages a session). Moreover, she said, only 20% of Style.com visitors subscribe to Vogue. But then again, the web and print audiences of magazines typically don't overlap much: One pays for the publication, and one generally does not.
Further, she said, websites that share magazine branding and content tend to be good sources of new subscribers, and those subscribers also tend to renew and pay their subscriptions on the web, making them more valuable.
In terms of unique visitors, Men.Style.com and Style.com are in the same league. According to Conde Nast internal numbers, Men.Style.com had 1.7 million unique visitors in June, up 49% from the same month last year; Style.com had 2 million. (ComScore puts Men.Style.com at 386,000 unique visitors, up 16%, and Style.com at 656,000 in June, down 9% from last year.)
Ms. Chubb said she believes associating the websites more closely with Conde's stellar magazine brands will have appeal for high-end brand advertisers. Increasingly, she said, there is no middle ground between the high end, where the brand advertisers want to be, and more-generic sites serviced by ad networks.
Andrea Kerr Redniss, managing director of digital for Optimedia, said GQ.com will be easier to justify in a media plan than Men.Style.com, just as Vogue.com would be more desirable than Style.com. Ms. Redniss recently looked at both as part of a campaign for L'Oreal designer fragrances.
Moreover, she said, men tend to get their style information from the sources of lifestyle information they already trust. In other words, GQ and Details.
"Overall we would prefer to align our brands with the websites most closely identified with magazines consumers have loved for decades," she said.