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The New York Times picks up where SkyMall left off

Sally Herships Mar 4, 2015
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When it began a little over a decade ago, the New York Times store was only meant to satisfy readers seeking reprints of articles.

It has since blossomed into a destination for hostess gifts, where shoppers can find anything from a personalized oak wine barrel, to a vintage English silver cream jug, to a novelty cutting board shaped like a pig. And recently the site got a makeover, further differentiating it from the online stores of other media outlets. As a press release for the relaunch boasts, the new online shop offers “personalized products that are curated for and recommended to each individual shopper.”

Those personalized oak wine barrels went like hot cakes. The Times sold 1,000 in the first quarter they were offered, says Joseph Adelantar, executive director of retail for The New York Times Store.

“Our readers have an affinity for something special. They want something that has some kind of a background to it, or some kind of historical note, rather than just saying here’s a beautiful watch and it’s gold,” he says.

 

 

The two liter personalized oak wine barrel sells for $89.95.

But at the NPR Shop, fans love the more practical items.

“When I started I thought we’re never going to sell a tote bag or a mug, because everyone that’s involved in public broadcasting has those things from a pledge drive,” says Barbara Sopato, director of consumer products and e-commerce for NPR. “But those are huge sellers for us.”

It seems nothing shows your love for public radio like the humble canvas tote bag, a perennial fan favorite.

NPR shoppers, notes Sopato, are eco-conscious. They also tend to have pets and a lot are gardeners or cooks says Sopato, who notes every spring she’s sure to offer up some gardening merchandising. But overall, they’re curious. A public radio fan doesn’t just want a cocktail, Sopato says, hey want a book that shows what plants are grown to make the booze so they can talk about the drink’s origins at happy hour. So that’s what Sopato sells.

 

NPR appeals to its fans with many green products, including this cat grass pet bowl.

But Margaret Duffy, director of the Institute for Advertising Ethics at the Missouri school of journalism, says that for media outlets, a snazzy store isn’t just about the cash in the till. After all, it’s one thing to sell a branded sweatshirt, mug and cuff links, and another altogether to land a corporate advertising campaign. If media outlets play their cards right, she says, they can use their sales as bait, to lure in bigger fish.

“One of the things they would clearly like to tell their advertisers is that they have a demographic that is willing and able to spend significantly on products and services,” she says.

Say, an antique brass clock in the Times store for $6,500.  

When it all comes down to it, “media outlets are brands,” says Allen Adamson, chairman of branding firm Landor’s North American headquarters. “The New York Times is as much a brand as Pepsi, Coke or McDonalds.”

And just like any other retailer, Adamson says, a media store has to know what its customers want.

“So, the [Times] you’d want to sell upscale, powerfully intellectual brand items,” he says.

“These are products for people who have a very curated life style,” says Marissa Gluck of the digital branding agency Huge.

“If you’re an NPR listener, you’re probably likely to drink craft beer and, you know, enjoy artisanal cheese,” Gluck says. “Fox is maybe a little bit older, certainly not fashion-forward.”

But for most media outlets, it’s not the coffee cup or baseball cap they’re trying to sell, but the logo on the front or side, Gluck says.

“Their primary revenue stream is advertising – it’s not really selling sweatshirts for 50 bucks a pop,” she says.


Five more strange finds from the depths of the New York Times store

  1. A rare German console set sells for $3,200 (conveniently linked to the store’s silver polish listing) for the hostess with the most-est.
  2. Your Titanic aficionado friend might have a boat replica, but they definitely need a 1912 Ford truck model replica, carrying paper bundles announcing the disaster – on sale for $99.99.
  3. The Times didn’t forget about Fido. On sale for $24.99, this houndstooth dog leash and matching color seems like a great deal for stylish pups.
  4. Dad blazed through that Abraham Lincoln biography you gave him last year? No worries, the Times can sell you a rare, original tintype photo of the president on a ribbon for $2,325.
  5. If you have been scouring the internet for a puzzle that appeals to both cat fans and/or people who love shaped jigsaws, look no further than this $50 tapestry cat wooden jigsaw puzzle.

Correction: This story originally stated the number of wine barrels the Times sold when they were first offered was 10,000. The correct number is 1,000.

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