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CORDER’S COLUMN: The convergence zone conundrum

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WATCHPRO co-founder Rob Corder.

Watchfinder is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

The company, owned by Richemont for over five years, was arguably the first in the world to bring trust and credibility to the market for second hand watches.

Things looked very different at the beginning in 2002. Neither watch brands nor watch retailers wanted anything to do with pre-owned watches, apart from taking them as trade-ins as part of a deal to sell a new watch.

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The media landscape was unrecognizable at the turn of the millennium as well. Hodinkee launched in 2008, a year after aBlogtoWatch first appeared online.

In the early 2000s, brands and retailers limited their publishing to brochures and perhaps a promotional holiday season magazine.

The past 20 years has seen a convergence between the professional publishing sector, retailers and brands producing their own content, and social media’s explosion giving everybody a way to speak directly to their audiences through text (Twitter), images (Instagram) and video (YouTube).

Watchfinder went early on this trend as well, becoming the first major YouTube content creator for the watch world. It now has over 800,000 subscribers on YouTube and its videos are often viewed by around 40,000 people.

Watches of Switzerland is another significant media player with its Calibre magazine (print and online) keeping customers informed all year round.

Almost every business has a website blog and social media channels.

Once specialist media businesses are also heading into the same convergence zone where retailing and publishing meet, most notably Hodinkee becoming an authorized dealer for dozens of watch brands, and a player in the pre-owned space following the acquisition of Crown & Caliber.

Philadelphia-based WatchBox is emerging as one of the most influential players in this convergence zone.

The company is only five years old, although its founders have been in the luxury watch business for a great deal longer than that.

One of those founders, Danny Govberg, has also been in the media space for decades, having brought International Watch Magazine to the United States.

WatchBox Studios has 136,000 subscribers on YouTube, and generates two or three short films per week with NetFlix-style production values.

Now WatchBox has hired one of the most respected watch writers in the world, the former Hodinkee editor-in-chief Jack Forster.

Because retailers and watch brands with money to burn are investing in producing media, it is becoming increasingly difficult for independent media businesses to compete; this is one of the reasons the likes of Hodinkee got into ecommerce, and perhaps the reason Mr Forster jumped ship.

More money producing high quality content ought to be good for consumers, but there is a problem with the independence of media in the convergence zone.

Everybody has another agenda, very often promoting the new and second hand watches they sell, so there is no critical reporting of what’s good or bad about products and how they are sold and serviced.

Here at WATCHPRO, we continue to value our independence above all else, which very often gets us into trouble with watch brands.

They respond by pulling advertising, uninviting us to events or refusing to give us interviews.

We’ve found a way to thrive despite the slings and arrows, but what I fear most is that there will be no independent titles left in five years time.

If all content is created by wealthy brands and retailers, consumers will have nowhere to go for news and views they can trust.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Rob, this is a topic you and I have discussed at length over the years and tend to mostly agree on. What you are identifying is a real phenomenon that is as much a moving target for brands as it is part of a larger culture of always trying to maximize profits by reducing the role of communication professionals in the middle. Since 2007 I’ve seen watch brands go in all sorts of directions and often end up right back where they started in terms of how they approach business. In short, what we are experiencing is an economic scarcity issue (when brands try to consolidate profits and remove what they see as expenses) as well as a reaction to constantly changing sales and distribution practices – where brands are more prone to follow trends than set their own path.

    According to reports I read across many industries, when revenues are an issue media and advertising spending is the first to go based on most corporate practices. At the same time, there is no clear way to get watches and information about them to market anymore. This means that brands are viciously trying to compete with one another for a relatively slim share of overall visibility and consumer interest – and they are trying to do so in a way that allows them to feel as though they are maximizing control and earning potential. Again, it doesn’t mean they will actually maximize earnings – but they will act that way so long as they feel they will. This results in brands trying to invest in their own content, distribution to consumers, and as a result bypassing a lot of the professionals in the middle (such as aBlogtoWatch and WatchPro). Does this make economic sense in the long run? No actually, but it does allow brands to feel as though they have a winning strategy which is all the current management (that typically only lasts a few years anyways) is interested in. In short, they are making decisions based on feelings and what seems trendy, not what actually works for brands. What I see is a pendulum swing now back to independent media spending because brands are realizing that spending on doing all the communication themselves is overly burdensome. It will take a few years for everyone to figure this out, but it is where the pendulum is swinging. I look at the auto industry – which the luxury watch industry is highly influenced by much of the time – and see how in that industry independent media is far more responsible for the sale of cars than the media car makers produce themselves. It is true that car makers and media titles often have evolving business relationships, but I think they all agree that not nearly as many cars would be sold if the industry was left to marketing and hype alone. Enthusiast media drives pretty much all car sales of any vehicle that isn’t just a driving appliance. That’s pretty much the same in the world of watches – despite the ego of brands thinking otherwise. Given that reality and the power of the independent voice to actually get people interested in watches, I know that from a psychological standpoint consumers will pay far less attention to this hobby if the only media around is that produced by the brands themselves.

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