How Universal’s Cosy Project beat the publishing industry’s downturn

Diversifying revenue is an ongoing challenge for publishers, as advertising spend dissipates. Mumbrella's Zoe Samios chats with Cosy Project founder Emma Perera, about launching a publication in the digital age.

For years, successful publications survived off advertising revenue. They were dependent on a model that would and could collapse if brands showed disinterest.

And as that started to occur, publishers looked to diversify revenues. Some invested in events, others in branded content. Some, in an attempt to continue to attract advertisers, unveiled new premium advertising inventory, promoting high viewability.

But e-learning portals and e-commerce don’t necessarily sound like ingredients for a publication. That’s unless you turn to Universal Magazine’s Cosy Project, an online craft marketplace launched by Universal Magazine’s Emma Perera.

Cosy Project launched in February last year, in response to audience data

The website, which launched just one year ago following requests from Universal Magazines’ audience, is built and designed by the publisher’s readers.

In the latest quarter, digital products sales from PDFs and videos grew by 45%. The company began distributing physical products in February, and has seen that offering contribute to 30% of total revenue.

Better still, Cosy Project’s audience spans well beyond Australia, with 43% of total traffic from overseas. 56% of that is from the US. In its first year, the company saw 40% growth in its database.

But how did a publication focused on knitting and craft succeed in an industry where so many have failed?

It all comes down to understanding what the consumer wants, Perera explains. In Cosy Project’s case, the need is to “up-skill”.

“We’re looking for new monetisation models for our content, we’re looking to leverage things we have in-house. So without having to spend loads of energy and money to develop new things, we’re saying what do we have and what can we leverage. So that’s where we start with all these new projects and what we did for Cosy,” Perera tells Mumbrella.

The craft space might be made for an older demographic, but Perera explains Universal’s print magazines, Quilters Companion and Home Spun, have seen steady growth on news stands.

Perera acknowledges it might be the demographic, but she also admits craft is one of those areas people will actually pay for content.

We wouldn’t have thought craft first, but we look at the data first when we’re trying to get funding for new projects and I’ve got to put a case forward and say ‘This is why I think we should do it’. On these metrics I was looking at, again I don’t know if they’ve got a lot of time to open emails, but it’s been steady. And also social media engagement for this particular group is so high. So they’re all on Facebook, Pinterest, they are in all these sewing groups, they actively comment on everything.”

Perera: ‘Social media engagement for this particular group is so high’

And that’s when Cosy launched an e-learning portal featuring patterns and online classes for those looking to learn how to craft.

For Perera, it was about making craft content and up-skilling more accessible to everyone.

“There’s all these great teachers, big designers, big names, but they don’t have a tech platform or savviness, they just confined to sharing that info or their course to these little craft shops that are quite suburban and there’s demand for information. It was democratisation of content, getting that out there, giving teachers a platform and then we made all that content but helping get it out there again,” she says.

But a year on, Perera and her team decided to begin selling physical products – products that completed the purchasing cycle.

The website was converting well at this point, but it needed an alternative form of revenue. As it were, online classes cost about $40, but were often discounted, while a pattern cost between $9-$15.

“What we wanted to do was increase basket size and increase the value of the products and the margins we have on them,” she says.

“And then additionally, it’s just a natural progression after you’ve got the pattern of the product to then see what else can I sell this person, not just to up sell but to make their lives easier. What is the natural next thing? We found some physical product that we have which are calendars and diaries all in the craft space, but then we just asked the partner for some fabric and said ‘can we sell this?’” she says.

But it wasn’t as easy as expected. Perera says her biggest challenge were the designers, who also sold their own products. She admits they were reluctant at first.

Universal’s print craft publications, Quilters Companion and Homespun

“The magazine is a platform for these designers to build their name and profile and then they have their own businesses. The largest thing about Cosy projects was that side of the stakeholder management, the artisans and the designers who are a huge part of this community and taking them on the journey of why this is also good for them.

They know Etsy and maybe one or two other digital platforms that are relevant to their business. So they say to me if I sell this on Etsy why should it also go on Cosy Project?

“We do a revenue share with designers to ease that, but this is our content that we have commissioned and owned. We had to really show them why this is a new profile for them. This is additional sales for them and not in any way eating up what they could be selling. They’re very different audiences.”

The Cosy Project is still young, but it proves that understanding an audience and using data points from other publications can help shape a new business model.

Perera adds media companies shouldn’t be thinking about publications they create anymore. Rather, they should be focused on “brands”, and whether the “brand” is the largest on news stands, or on other platform like social media.

But she’s adamant “niche” brands more specifically, have strong value and can easily be commercialised.

“If we’re talking Universal as a whole, the craft newsstand was still really really strong. In the bike market those guys are moving in a huge way online, they live in an online community and they are young boys so newsagents aren’t even a thing that they really think of.

If you think of something that you’re passionate about, you go to where where information is that you know has your passion or your interest. Therein I think is where niche is important. Secondly, it’s that whole tribe mentality where people feel associated with marketers, brands and magazines that embody who they are.”


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