Future plc, the FTSE 250 listed publisher that claims to reach nearly 40% of online users in the US and 50% in the UK, announced in February that it generates over $1 billion in eCommerce sales annually. Indeed, the publisher now views eCommerce as one of the central pillars of its revenue strategy, with affiliate marketing a key component of this.
As eMarketer outlines, affiliate revenues come from “commissions earned on conversions or clicks through affiliate links placed in content on websites or other channels, like social media accounts and email newsletters.” The advantage for publishers using the affiliate commerce model is that they do not have to stock products, minimizing commercial risk.
Whilst Future has become adept at leveraging affiliate marketing, it’s not the only publisher doing so – Dotdash Meredith recently disclosed it has seen more than 100% year-over-year growth in affiliate revenue [thanks to commerce content] according to Chloe Reznikov, General Manager of Commerce Content and Strategy. Hearst UK has seen even bigger numbers, leading the magazine group to hire eight shopping editors in 2020 to accelerate growth across the tech, beauty, fashion, home and travel sectors.
Hearst UK began diversifying into affiliate and e-commerce revenue lines in 2017. All titles dabble in some form of affiliate…..all editorial teams work on commerce content.
Lucina Southern, writing in Digiday
For Zack Sullivan, Chief Revenue Officer at Future plc, affiliate marketing plays to their strengths as a premium publisher, telling WNIP, “We have well-known brands with a rich history of providing high quality and thorough reviews, and our eCommerce platform allows audiences to find the best place to buy, based on availability and price from multiple retailers.”
Price comparison widgets expand opportunities
It was Future’s purchase of, GoCompare, in late 2020 that raised eyebrows, not least why the publisher felt it necessary to pony up $793M to purchase the price comparison website – a hefty fee by any measure.
For the team at Future plc, the purchase made clear commercial sense, as Sullivan explains, “Future has a well-established affiliate business based on product reviews and GoCompare as a price comparison service gave us the opportunity to introduce insurance products to this business model. Combined with our recent new launch, The Money Edit and the acquisition of Money Week through Dennis Publishing, we also opened up these opportunities around Finance and Wealth audiences.”
Sullivan states that the price comparison model will be rolled across many of its brands, “We aim to integrate price comparison services as broadly as possible to our media portfolio as we can see a clear demand from our online audiences and there are significant opportunities. Some current examples include mortgage and home insurance comparison widgets placed on our home brands.”
Our audiences have a high intent to buy – offering price comparison is a natural next step in the path to purchase.
Zack Sullivan, Chief Revenue Officer, Future plc
Google re-ranks price comparisons
Future’s purchase of GoCompare – whether by design or good fortune – coincides with Google enhancing the importance of price comparisons within its SEO architecture.
Specifically, Google gave notice in December 2021 of two new product review requirements aimed squarely at tackling fake product reviews. The first requirement is that a product review page needs to provide ample evidence that the product has been used by the person reviewing it. The second condition is that product reviews offer multiple buying options, a requirement that price comparison tech fulfills.
Future’s Sullivan explains that this is all “part of Google’s push towards ranking websites based on the quality of their content, under the umbrella of ‘expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness’ or EAT for short”.
For Future, this means according to Sullivan, “changing our guidance on how reviews are shown on our sites to ensure that we’re including images of devices in use. We’re also updating our about pages and author pages to ensure we’re being clear about the thoroughness of our review process, the independence of our content, and the reputation and experience of our writers.”
We welcome this (change) and see it as a competitive advantage for premium publishers. We have well-known brands with a rich history of providing high quality and thorough reviews, and our eCommerce platform allows audiences to find the best place to buy, based on availability and price from multiple retailers.
Zack Sullivan, Chief Revenue Officer, Future plc
Industry adjusts to price comparison importance
The increased importance of price comparisons is also reflected by other industry moves, including the purchase of Monetizer101 by publisher technology platform Sovrn late last year. In a blog post to accompany the acquisition, Sovrn stated that price comparisons can provide publishers with up to 179% higher earnings per click and up to 200% more clicks and conversions, also noting that “traditional affiliate links are limited because they can only promote one merchant at a time.” Subsequently, “if the product happens to be out of stock or the price isn’t competitive, the consumer will shop elsewhere – and you’ll miss out on the revenue.”
Offering price comparisons as part of a commerce content strategy can simplify the comparison shopping process for users. And by helping them find the best available price before they click, you’ll improve the overall shopping experience and strengthen your reputation as a trusted resource.
However, despite the successful uptake of affiliate marketing by numerous publishers, Professor Damian Radcliffe, writing in WNIP’s eCommerce in Publishing: Trends and Strategies report, guards against affiliate marketing being seen as the magic revenue cure-all.
Radcliffe views the decision by Walmart and Amazon to reduce commissions to be particularly ominous, writing, “publishers need to be wary of putting all of their eggs in one (online shopping) basket. The decision by major retail partners like Amazon and Walmart to cut the commission they pay their affiliate partners, may impact a publisher’s bottom line and the effectiveness of their affiliate strategy.”
As with all publisher revenue streams, diversification is key.
Disclosure: What’s New in Publishing is wholly owned by Sovrn Holdings, Inc. who are mentioned in this article.