Condé Nast Finally Thinks This Web Thing Is Going to Be Huge (Updated)

Last Updated Jul 21, 2009 2:23 PM EDT

Much has been swirling through the ether about Condé Nast over the last few days -- the biggest news being that it has hired McKinsey & Co. to help it "realign ... to be a successful business in an emerging economy that is now predicted to be painfully slow in recovering." (That quote is from an internal memo that CEO Chuck Townsend sent to the troops yesterday, before he mentions the hiring of McKinsey.)

But, if you're into the power of brands, the most interesting piece of information is this: that Condé Nast is finally dropping its men.style.com Web site in favor of giving individual Web domains to GQ and Details in October. (Typing either gq.com or details.com into a Web browser will steer you to men.style.com, and the home page gives a small head nod to whatever URL the visitor typed in, but it's basically a mash-up of the two brands.)

If that idea of launching magazine-specific Web sites sounds very 1999, you're right. Even though its strategy has had its success stories, Condé Nast's approach to online certainly ranks as one of the most peculiar in the business, since virtually no other magazine group decided, back in the day, that it would create entirely new brands for the Web around some of the very same topics that its magazines covered -- and then stuck with that strategy for more than a decade.

However, Condé Nast, until recently -- with the exception of Wired -- didn't care. It had a print bias that perhaps only a private company built on glossies that attract high-end advertisers and readers could get away with for this long. In a story last January, Advertising Age's Nat Ives pointed out how potentially damaging to the company this was; digital accounted for only three percent of the company's revenue in 2008, even with the very able Sarah Chubb at the helm of its digital efforts. One can only imagine what it might have been like in the room a few years back when Conde Nast's digital staff suggested to Vanity Fair's Graydon Carter or Vogue's Anna Wintour that this Web thing was going to be huge.

But the news of branded Web destinations for Condé Nast's Web titles doesn't mean that all of the company's dedicated Web properties are going away. At least for now. But having watched this company's Web efforts for a long time, I would predict the future like this: Style.com, which is basically the Web offshoot of Vogue, will go away, as soon as Vogue has its own dedicated site in 2010.

Ives quotes a comScore traffic number for Style.com which shows its traffic declined by nine percent in June. Compete shows its traffic as being pretty much flat over the last year. Once Vogue has its own Web site, there's little reason for Style.com to exist. (Maybe I'm not so right, after all. Check the update below.)

But, I think the company may hold onto Concierge.com and, particularly Epicurious.com, even if the magazines most closely tied to the travel and food categories have branded Web presences. Both are deep service sites, offering iPhone apps and databases of recipes and destinations. And from a traffic perspective, Epicurious, in particular, holds up. According to numbers from Compete (pictured above -- Epicurious is in blue), it outclasses all of the Condé Nast magazine-branded destinations, with the obvious exception of Wired.com.

Well, Condé Nast ... welcome to the Web. You're really onto something.

(UPDATE: A Conde Nast spokesperson refutes my views on Style.com, citing a compelling statistic: that less than 10 percent of the traffic comes from the Vogue audience, which, when contrasted with the overlap between men.style.com -- which overlaps with GQ by 35 percent -- puts it in a different league. )

Previous coverage of Condé Nast at BNET Media:

'Conde Nast Portfolio' Was Never a Great Idea No Treats, Just Pink Slips at Conde Nast