Symbiotic Editorial: What Print Publishing can Learn from Vice Magazine

Discarded Vice by Henry Faber
"Discarded Vice" by Henry Faber
An emerging concept in the fledgling world of publishing is “symbiotic editorial.” It’s a concept that’s about publishers taking greater control of ad revenues by proactively connecting their audience with offers that their audience actually cares about. It’s kind of like using readers to target advertisers, rather than letting advertisers snipe their audiences. Instead of advertisers choosing what audience is their “target market,” publishers could use what they know (and learn) about their readers to decide what offers would actually appeal to them, and not disrupt their experience.

This would, of course, entail a much more proactive approach than offered by traditional ad departments. In fact, it would require that publications have their own “in-house agencies” that are capable undertaking database mining, sourcing sponsors that are appropriate for their audience, and managing a much more precise and diversified revenue model than is offered by current impression- or print-based ad models.

Well, it seems that the full-gloss, free hipster publication, Vice Magazine has already started moving in this direction. As Andrew Adam Newman of the NY Times reports:

Vice magazine has its own antonymous agency, Virtue, which serves as an advertising firm, Web site developer and branding partner. In what may rankle media traditionalists who favor a bright line between advertising and editorial, Virtue’s approach includes using editorial staff at Vice to help develop marketing plans for clients.
Vice, which started humbly as a free newspaper in Montreal, is now a publishing juggernaut, a glossy magazine based in the hipster center of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. It publishes editions in 13 other countries, including Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Japan and Australia. During the next two years, it plans to introduce editions in a dozen more, including Brazil in June and Argentina in September.

So while so many other print-based publications are struggling and folding, Vice is actually expanding, with plans to enter a dozen new markets. Part of this, of course, has to do with what Vice co-founder, Shane Smith, calls a “recession-proof demographic” (aged 18 to 30, and 65 percent male). But there are a few other cues the rest of the print-based publishing industry could probably take from them (and adapt to their own audiences).

First, and foremost, is their brand of “symbiotic editorial.” Journalism outlets obviously have a lot less leeway here than a lifestyle publication such as Vice, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t make vast improvements in their efforts to (1) build databases of user info, (2) mine them, (3) more proactively target sponsors, and (4) diversify and refine their ad offerings.

Second, Vice‘s physical print product is free and entirely ad-supported. More tabloid-like newspapers such as Metro News and 24 Hours are already doing this, so there’s no reason why top-tier local papers shouldn’t be competing on this front with a “free edition.”

Third, Vice has used their print product to drive online traffic. In addition to advertising online-exclusives in their print edition, they also offer expanded and supplemental content online.

Finally, once Vice brings a reader online, they keep them there. As the NYT article pointed out, their video site,, was realized through a partnership with Viacom, and now draws 3.5 million monthly unique visitors, who spend an average of nearly 15 minutes on the site. That is mother f**king stickiness, my friend, and I’m sure that their “own antonymous agency, Virtue,” is working on technology to target these users with engaging offers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *