image: Elle

image: Elle

Hearst Communications – the media giant that owns Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Seventeen magazines, among others – has, for some time now, been posting the same articles across the board on many of its sites. The titles are changed very, very slightly from one platform to another – literally one worded added here, another swapped in there – but the content of the article is exactly the same whether it is on Elle or Esquire.

In what appears to be an effort to cut down on the resources it takes to run a fully functioning network of websites, this is part of a strategy that Hearst Digitial’s Editorial Director and Senior VP of Content Operations, Kate Lewis, introduced when she came on board in January 2014. Under her watch, Hearst’s sites have begun putting forth content that works on not just one of its sites – but across many of them.

“Ultimately, the goal is to have 20 percent of a given Hearst site’s content coming from another Hearst property,” Lewis said in late 2014.

According to Digiday, “The example Hearst execs love to talk about is the story that the Houston Chronicle, a Hearst newspaper, published about a woman with a $500,000 custom-built closet. With permission to recycle content, the magazines didn’t have to deprive their readers of such a tantalizing story — or, for that matter, re-report it. Elle Decor, Bazaar and Cosmo all posted versions of the story.”

Now, over three years later, the strategy is still in full force, as indicated by a recent article, which Esquire posted earlier this month, entitled, “Kendall and Kylie Jenner Are Being Sued for Those Bad T-Shirts Everyone Hated: Oops.” The following day, the same article – with the same title, by the same author – popped up on Seventeen, Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, and Elle’s sites.

An Interesting Move in a Tough Climate

Since the start of Lewis’ tenure at Hearst, she has been credited with getting individual Hearst titles to work faster, more efficiently and collaboratively. Publishing volume, for instance, increased 40 percent [in 2014 alone], to 300 posts a day across the network. While a noteworthy portion of those 300 posts very well may be the exact same, it is, nonetheless, an intriguing solution for keeping up with the hamster wheel of content on the web, where the average shelf life of an article is roughly 2 days – or less.

Publications have responded to such a need for speedy content by doing just that – churning out more and more content in order to keep up. A recent 032c article that focused on menswear sites, HighSnobiety and HypeBeast, highlighted the sites’ extreme focus on the speed of drafting and the quantity of articles being published on a daily basis; “Each of [Hypebeast’s] sub-editors are tasked with creating nearly a dozen articles during each work day, sometimes up to 20.”

Speed is not something to which Hearst is immune. Speaking in 2014, Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media, said that the publishing giant has “moved quickly, developing an infrastructure [thanks to Amazon Web Services] that allows our brands to publish all the time and build scale at a rapid pace.” It has also increased its efficiency.

Earlier this year, Young spoke to this exact point, saying: “We’re expected to produce so much, so quickly for so many environments.”

He continued on to note, “Efficiency for me is a starting point. And if you get it right, it means you can invest intelligently. There are only so many ways to interpret the ‘Taylor Swift gets a haircut’ story. If I write that story nine times that’s inefficient. If I write it once and make it work across nine different environments that allows me to write a feature because I just saved a lot of money. I think modern media asks us to be efficient.”

With that in mind, it is an intriguing use of resources to publish the exact same content across multiple platforms, especially because the individuals who are frequenting Esquire – a men’s site – are probably not the ones going to Marie Claire. Similarly, the women following Marie Claire are likely different (read: a bit older) than those that read Seventeen. This significantly lowers the risk of alienating readers due to repetitive content.

As for whether this method stands to turn off readers that simultaneously take in content from multiple Hearst titles – such as women that visit both Elle and Marie Claire’s sites – it seems unlikely. Given that this publishing strategy has been at play at Hearst for several years now and that Hearst Magazines Digital Media reported record-breaking traffic in 2016 with 176 million monthly unique visitors across its portfolio of brands, up 25 percent from the year prior, it seems safe to assume that this relatively novel approach to digital journalism is going well. 

Hearst did not respond to a request for comment on its digital strategy.