Conde Nast is using its free publication, GQ Hype, to drive weekly habits

British GQ is making a play for new and younger audiences with GQ Hype, a sub-brand it launched quietly two months ago.

Hype acts as its own weekly magazine. Each week it publishes a weekly cover, plus regular daily features, separate to other GQ content published in print and online.

In January, the title published 280 articles under GQ Hype across politics, lifestyle, fashion, opinion and, increasingly, news. Popular pieces include this on Calouste Gulbenkian, the richest man in history, and how Brexit and Tinder have altered the dating scene.

Now, it’s launching a newsletter on Feb. 18.

In January, the GQ audience grew 43 percent year over year to 3.7 million global unique users, according to the publisher’s Google Analytics stats. In December, the first month of Hype, 3.2 million unique users, a growth of 32 percent year over year. Comscore’s most recent month monitored is December, which saw 873,000 monthly unique users to GQ.

“We have good growth in digital, but we had an issue with loyalty,” said Dylan Jones, editor of British GQ. “One of the ways to include all the verticals and increase the quantity was to launch a free-to-air weekly. It encourages the team to frame pieces in a different way. We’re committed to the project; we’re not just putting 800-word pieces under it.”

GQ is planning six more in-depth pieces in the next two months exclusively for Hype. It previously would have kept these more expensive and time-consuming pieces for the magazine. Hype content is more events-driven, with regular content meetings to map out where to focus. As such it gives it the opportunity to be more reactive to the news. For instance, this interview with 1980s British boyband Bros after a documentary on the BBC in December sparked new interest in the duo.

“Digital encourages you to be in the moment much more. You need to accommodate and plan for what you will have an opinion on,” said Jones. “People come to us for our taste, but they also come to us to be surprised.”

In the last three months GQ added five new editorial hires, and those journalists work across Hype and the site. Currently, its editorial team is around 31 people.

GQ Hype makes sense as a gateway product for people who might not buy the magazine, even if the additional revenue is modest, said Alex DeGroote, an independent analyst. “Condé Nast International has been cost-cutting but is now more revenue-focused. GQ has one of the most resilient brands in lifestyle publishing, and the advertising proposition is clear-cut.”

Hype will make money through display ads and content partnerships with brands. GQ is into its third year of working with Gucci creating five short-form films distributed on its own 22 global platforms. The title works with brands outside the luxury category, but the closure of men’s weekly-free magazine Shortlist last November points to the challenges with mass-market male-focused advertising.

Plans are shaping up to make more GQ content paid for, which Jones is backing. “I sincerely hope we reach a stage where everything is behind a paywall. It’s kind of outrageous that people get things for free,” he said. “I don’t believe in a freemium model.” Condé Nast in the U.S. has introduced paywalls to titles like Vanity Fair, and more are highly likely. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulation from June 2018, around 12,500 already pay for a subscription to the digital edition of GQ.

The balance of mitigating declines in traffic, and so ad revenue, with putting up a hard paywall are well-documented, and the tensions that can arise, but building out products to encourage people to return to regularly, like Hype, will give the title a stronger start. “You make it work,” said Jones. “We not going to leap into this with wild abandon. Everything will be finely calibrated. I like to think we’ll reach a stage where people pay for content.”

GQ also hosts B2B awards in automotive and food and drink categories. This year is the inaugural “GQ Heroes,” a B2B conference to mirror its verticals like entertainment, technology, food, politics as well as fashion designers and CEOs. Elsewhere, in January Vogue launched Vogue Business, a B2B content product going after fashion professionals. Other GQ brand extensions like licensing are in the works.

“The trap is people get driven by traction, and you become clickbait. You can’t operate like that because you don’t have a DNA,” said Jones. “We all want to sell more. We all want more eyeballs, but it has to have GQ DNA or it doesn’t work for us.”

Image: courtesy of GQ.

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