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.
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.
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.