Business of Fashion

A closer look at the industry's most talked about website

The fashion industry, like few others, embraces and exults in the new, especially if at first glance it is not terribly clear exactly what that new thing truly represents. Prime example: The Internet has, and is still, creating havoc among designers, media and, above all, retailing. Who was there first? How to get there? And what to do when you get there? Most thrillingly, who has the next big idea? Now forgotten, but when the shoppable website Boo.com was launched in the 90s by the best of New York’s media elite (led by Glenn O’Brien) it burned through a hundred million dollars before it tanked.

We’ve come a long way and there have been many success stories in the e-commerce world. Just look at Nathalie Massenet, a former Vogue editor who revolutionized shopping with Net-a-Porter. So popular are e-commerce sites these days that Italy’s Federico Marchetti made an immense business for himself by running the websites for big fashion houses like Giorgio Armani and all the Kering group brands. He also created Yoox.com for indie fashion brands. It has become a highly profitable business. Now every department store chain is desperate to get into the e-commerce game. Neiman Marcus recently purchased red-hot German site My Theresa at a highly inflated price. In fashion, nobody wants to feel left out.

On the media side, back in the early 2000s, Anna Wintour and Candy Pratts Price launched Style.com, which to this day is one of the internet’s most visited fashion websites. By comparison, Wintour’s attempts to establish her Vogue website has been a great failure. In recent seasons, Style.com has achieved roughly 25 times as many page views per day as Vogue.com, a remarkable victory for Style’s editor Dirk Standen. In the latest big talenthiring move, Jonathan Newhouse of Condé Nast poached Suzy Menkes from The New York Times to install her at all of his Vogue global websites. Despite all that, Style.com now seems impossible to overtake in terms of visits, the ultimate compliment to Standen.

Nevertheless, Condé Nast last year put Wintour back in charge of overseeing the site. Strange but true. So now Standen is one of many editor in chiefs reporting to the artistic director of Conde Nast. And we would like to mention our very own editor in chief Godfrey Deeny, who was the first serious journalist on the web writing reviews for FashionWireDaily, starting back in 1999. But all that said, the most talked about fashion website in 2014 among the industry insiders was the Business of Fashion. Why? Well, that’s what stumps us. Having looked at its editorial content over a several weeks, we realized that nearly two thirds of the contents are lifted off other websites.

BoF, October 2014: A correlation between the original content (including video interviews and Pop Quizzes), from the Business of Fashion staff and the sources posted onto the Home page, Daily Digest and News & Analysis sections on a daily basis.
A correlation between the original content (including video interviews and Pop Quizzes), from the Business of Fashion staff and the sources posted onto the Home page, Daily Digest and News & Analysis sections on a daily basis. Statistics: Achtung Online, 2014

Basically, BoF is a news aggregator and not a true journalism brand. The founder Imran Amed is a former management consultant who has worked hard to reinvent him as a reputable fashion journalist. He has clearly established a unique look and seems to have access to some very smart programmers as the site lures you to believe that you’re reading a Business of Fashion article when really what you’re actually looking at are story headlines blatantly lifted from Reuters, Bloomberg News, The New York Times or even WWD. And if you doubt us, go and see on BoF, and note that stories by these reputable organizations are laid out graphically as if they came from BoF.

Why do these news organizations let BoF get away with it? Clicks. They simply like the number of clicks and hence don’t do anything about it. With the exception of the doyen of English runway critics, Colin McDowell, the quality of stories generated by Business of Fashion reporters is generally considered lightweight, and predictably positive. Its favourite fodder is its column Creative Class, which features obsequious hagiographies of hairdressers or casting agents. One cannot dispute that BoF has grasped the potential reach of the Web better than many of its competitors. It does have a savvy digital vision.

Stories divided by source. All sources were posted between the dates of the previous table.

However, like all web-born fashionistas, ultimately their editorial team had to have a crack at print. In their case, a magazine serving up much the same tidbits that have already been well covered by titles like Industrie, System, Style.com and – above all Women’s Wear Daily and their magazines. Most embarrassingly, back in September, in a widely derided story, The New York Times posted an unfortunate article by Laura M. Holson, in which the Business
of Fashion was deemed to be the new force in fashion journalism, allegedly “filling the void,” left by a weakened WWD, the longtime industry bible.

Well, let’s try to be grown ups. No serious editor and executive should ever really begin their day without first reading WWD, which continues to break more stories – generated by their own staff reporters – every month than BoF. In our view, it still calls the shots when it comes to fashion news coverage. Under its new owner Penske Media that seems likely to continue, especially online. The Business of Fashion is for the moment nothing more than a competently aggregated industry newsletter, which scans for anything interesting that’s been written about fashion. That is not really journalism but rather business consultancy.

Amed has found a niche – reading for everyone else in an industry where people like to be in the loop at all times. However, to remain a fashion media darling or a relevant news outlet, the site would have to build a serious journalism staff and stop lifting other people’s stories. Let’s see if that ever happens.

This article was first published in Achtung issue 29