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Domino relaunches as content-commerce hybrid

Posted on Thursday, October 03, 2013.

Don’t judge this magazine by its cover. The new Domino may look like the original, but it offers something completely new—a business model that could become a saving grace in the world of declining magazine advertising revenues.

Domino Media Group was founded by venture capitalists Cliff Sirlin, Andy Appelbaum and Aaron Wallace, each of whom have launched a number of successful businesses including Seamless and the social design and commerce site Project Décor in June 2012. Condé Nast, Launch Capital and iNovia Capital  are also investors in the company.



Michelle Adams, Aaron Wallace, Beth Brenner, Andy Appelbaum and Cliff Sirlin

Aside from being a beautifully designed, robust website and a quarterly print magazine ($11.99 on newsstands), Domino is also a retailer. As such, it receives wholesale pricing from vendors while charging retail pricing to readers. This model may allow the magazine to generate significant revenue from retail sales in addition to traditional advertising sales.

Domino will handle the transaction and customer service around purchases, and the manufacturer will ship the item to the customer. This way, Domino avoids the expense of holding inventory.

Currently, 200 vendors representing 30,000 products are participating as vendors in the marketplace. In addition to being a shopping destination, Domino editors will use the marketplace section to match products to the editorial content on the site, making the stories 'shoppable.'

“We have tens of thousands of images and every one is an opportunity to call out product. The products are the crayons used to color in the pictures,” explained Appelbaum.



Much of the product featured is artisan made and some is only available through Domino. In a sense, Adams and her team are doubling as buyers and product developers. Caroline Hurley, who is featured in the current issue, created a series of signed, limited edition art prints at the request of Domino’s editor in chief Michelle Adams, who went so far as to connect her with a local printer. Hurley is also making pillows out of her fabric designs, and she enlisted a friend whose ceramic vases were featured in the story to sell on Domino. An artist in Marfa, Texas, will be making leather chairs with customizable leg colors and Thom Borgese, a Domino contributing editor, is selling his original artwork through the site as well.

The team is hoping to “finish the thought” of the original Domino by featuring not just a great room and guidance on how to put it together, but taking it one step further by bringing the components directly to the reader’s doorstep.

“I want the reader to feel like we picked up where we left off,” said Adams, who is adamant about keeping Domino true to its original formula. “I thought it would be a disservice to not bring back Domino in its original form. As a start up, we want to listen to what the reader wants and deliver it quickly. The sky is the limit. Why couldn’t we have brand extensions such as a Domino book, a Domino shop or even a Domino hotel down the road?”

Adams left her post as editor in chief of Lonny magazine in March 2013, and was recruited by Domino shortly thereafter. She and Domino's creative director Robert Leleux conceptualized the entire issue in about a week, then took off for seven weeks of shooting in Oxford, London, Paris, Tangiers, Morocco, India, Vermont, Massachusetts, Houston, LA, the Hamptons, and all over New York City. She has assembled a team of three staff editors and 15 contributing editors including India Hicks, Lisa Fine, Virginia Tupker and Billy Cotton to rebuild the brand.

The original Domino magazine formula was to empower the reader and democratize design—every page and every article needed to teach the reader something, recalled Adams. “Domino was created by people who knew about and loved design and presented it in a way that was fresh and not being done. It was the first magazine to speak to our generation. It taught the reader how to make the most of what they have and that it didn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.”

What Domino does differently than other content-commerce sites is prioritize the editorial. The submission process for designers to get published is the same—project photos are submitted and reviewed by the editors.

“Most sites start with products. We are starting with the story and then letting readers know how to get the products,” said Appelbaum.

"As the first multi-platform home magazine, it will be a game changer,” said Domino’s chief revenue officer Beth Brenner, who was the founding publisher when the title first launched. “I had a meeting with a tabletop manufacturer the other day and he said, 'Wait. You’re here not just to ask me for money but to make me some?' This completely flips the traditional business model on its head.”

Is this the future of publishing? Sirlin declined to make a prediction. "I think we're really excited about this opportunity within this sector," he said. "It will evolve like all brands."

As a minority investor, Condé Nast is watching Domino’s progress closely and offering support and assets such as production capabilities, image archives and subscriber lists.

“We can turn to them for sage wisdom and guidance—they have an answer for every challenge that we have. It’s all of the benefits of being part of a major corporation and very few of the problems,” said Sirlin.

“Condé Nast is cognizant of the problem in the advertising model. Publishers are delivering so much value and all they’re getting is the advertising dollars. The idea that they can become part of the stream of commerce is interesting to them,” said Appelbaum. “Incubating that kind of a cultural change is difficult in a large organization, so Condé Nast decided to take it outside and allow us to experiment with it.”


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