Domino CEO Nathan Coyle toured me around the room, which was lined with wood shelves supporting glassware from Anna Karlin, home accessories from Fort Makers and textiles from Cold Picnic — all items curated by the editorial team at the magazine. At the front of the store, just behind the glass facing the street, was a gift-wrapping station sponsored by Target, featuring polka-dotted paper in festive colors.
The shop, which also hosted workshops on such holiday themes as party food presentation and wreath-making, was so successful that Coyle decided to keep it open a week longer than originally planned.
And that, Coyle explained, is the key to surviving in the media industry, especially as an independent publisher like Domino: making sure your brand is multiplatform, and not relying on any one platform.
The Domino brand reaches across multiple businesses, a strategy Coyle calls being “omnichannel.” Domino has a vibrant quarterly print publication, a book publishing business (the company just released “Domino: Your Guide to a Stylish Home,” a follow-up to its "Domino: The Book of Decorating"), e-commerce, retail, digital channels and an e-mail newsletter that has over 1 million subscribers.
“These things do great heavy lifting in terms of brand-building,” Coyle said. “It’s about having diversified initiatives and platforms. They give back in spades on the brand side and when you do it well and keep doing it, then you start to build meaningful business and revenue as well.”
Coyle said merchandise sales from the pop-up Manhattan store were “cash positive” and “exceeded my projections by huge amounts.”
As a result of its success, Coyle plans to open pop-up stores in different cities across the country this year, including Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
The brick-and-mortar store is an extension of Domino’s efforts to make revenue from e-commerce. Curated items are made available for consumers to buy on its site with the help of a custom CMS. The CMS automatically detects products written about in a story and adds a clickable link, allowing readers to buy the item mentioned.
The "shoppable articles" help "cross the bridge between content and commerce,” Coyle said.
Domino also has a “Marketplace” on the site, where designers can sign up to sell their products, once they’re approved by editors. This gives independent designers access to t Domino consumers, and Domino gets a cut from the sale.
While being an independent publisher has its challenges — larger publishing conglomerates have “more toys in their sandbox” as Coyle put it, particularly with advertisers and audience reach — he said that Domino, previously published by Conde Nast, has embraced its independence in the industry.
“We are actively reaching out to other independent voices in our space to create our own types of alliances that give us incremental scale,” such as partnering with indie sites and blogs by influencers that have “hit a certain size and scale."
When Domino was resurrected in 2013, it switched to publishing quarterly from monthly, in large part to focus more on the digital side of the business. In the last six months, Domino’s monthly unique visitors doubled in November to two million monthly unique visitors.
Coyle’s goal is to double the traffic again by this December.
He said a challenge in the industry is publishers competing for advertiser dollars with social platforms and Google. Coyle believes that homepages are going to be “less central” and will ultimately face the same future as the newsstand. Content is going to be increasingly consumed on social platforms, he said.
Publishers are feeling pressure in programmatic advertising, Coyle said, and many are building a direct sell to an advertising business.
“Most people would agree with me that programmatic buying is a real challenge in terms of shrinking ad revenue,” Coyle said.
His view is that in order to “crack the code” on a platform’s algorithms, publishers need to have “a diversified voice and trusted authority" in their vertical, and "find and exploit the right channels to get in front of the eyeballs of [the right] audience,” Coyle said.
Print advertising revenue isn't doing any better, he added. “Just from the talks we are having with advertisers, print budgets will continue to be depressed and have downward pressure,” he said.
But Coyle explained that there are benefits to staying in the print business. “Having this physical manifestation is powerful,” he said. “It’s powerful with advertisers to have something they can put in their hands that expresses our brand in a compelling way.”
That’s another reason Domino has a premium pricing approach to its magazine. Each issue on the newsstand is $12.99, or $47.99 for an annual subscription.
“Magazine sellers make a lot more money from our publication than something that sells for a lot less,” Coyle said.
The power of a brand is more important than ever and will continue to be, he said. “Having a resonant brand is going to separate winners from losers.”
Coyle said the next area of growth will be in video. He plans to hire a head of production and produce daily videos by the second quarter of 2017.