Many fashion bloggers started their blogs hoping to get discovered and become glamorous overnight. Indeed, Manolo from Manolo’s Shoe blog reputedly earned a six figure annual income from blogging. Susie from Style Bubble got a job within the industry because of her blog, and is now a frequent guest at international fashion events. Jane, a regular Texas girl from Sea of Shoes, was even invited to the annual Crillon Ball in Paris as one of the twenty four debutantes along with the likes of Stanley Ho’s granddaughter and Princess Diana’s niece. Free samples, fashion shows, magazine and newspaper features, maybe even a book deal- it was all within a few clicks of the mouse. The upside in fashion blogging seemed limitless relative to the low cost of entry. But you can’t expect to simply arrive in Hollywood and become a superstar. It takes a bit more to reach stardom.
In 2004, since the idea of blogging about clothes and accessories was still fairly new, it was relatively easy to establish yourself amongst the handful of fashion blogs out there. Sign up for a free user-friendly blog account, churn out a few blog posts, exchange links with other fashion blogs to make yourself known and you are a fashion blogger. You didn’t need to be in the industry or even be terribly fashionable- that was what magazines were for. You just needed to be interested in fashion, have an opinion and a voice that readers can relate to and consistently publish up-to-date posts. There is nothing more detrimental to a blog than a blogger who disappears for weeks. No matter how much they like your blog, they will not come back to a fickle source.
Eventually, traditional publications started to take note of this growing community. Published articles, like the New York Times article titled “Online, Feisty Critics” in 2005, helped jump start interest in these blogs and contributed to the rapid growth in the fashion blogosphere. For brand managers, it was a whole new channel for fashion marketing that they fully intended to take advantage of it. Fashion bloggers were flooded with press releases, advertising inquiries, invitations and free sample offers, all vying for a spot on their blog. Towards the summer of 2007, even big international brands that had previously scoffed at fashion blogs started paying attention. Chanel offered to fly select fashion bloggers from around the world over to Paris, for an all expense paid trip to view their collections and tour the private apartments of Coco Chanel, in an effort to promote their brand in this new media.
But if glamorous perks and fame are considered as an abnormal profit, then it cannot be expected to be sustainable in the long term. With the cost of entry into the fashion blogosphere next to nothing, infinite would-be bloggers and the transparent nature of blogs, the only thing differentiating each blog is its unique human capital. As with all such monopolistic competition market structures, eventually abnormal profit will attract more producers to enter, creating competition that will drive down the abnormal profit. And indeed, that was what happened.
Not only were there more independent fashionista’s trying to get a piece of the glamour, but fashion insiders as well. Fashion magazines launched fashion blogs, featuring real editors mimicking the friendly and down to earth tone of bloggers, providing readers with first hand insider news and analysis. Some even adopted this style of writing in their magazines. Fashion brands, especially the lesser known ones, also introduced fashion blogs in an attempt to promote their products. The fashion blogosphere exploded, making it increasingly difficult for new bloggers to differentiate themselves from other blogs and reap abnormal profits.
Established fashion bloggers benefited immensely during the boom. They easily expanded their readership from a few hundred to a few thousand hits per day, through incoming links from magazine and newspaper features, blog networks and newly set up fashion blogs. With popularity came more popularity, as their ranking in search engines also improved. More traffic was organically directed towards them from keyword searches, which is a powerful source of traffic. If you Google search “Fashion Blog” right now, you will find that I am Fashion, a blog that stopped updating early 2009, still ranks number five in the search results, despite their inactivity. Newcomers on the other hand, do not have this competitive edge.
The only recourse for new fashion bloggers without the financial backing of large corporations to buy them search engine rankings and publicity, is to find increasingly innovative ways to set themselves apart. It is not enough now to simply have a relatable voice and opinion. You must have a unique selling point. Manolo from the Manolo shoe blog for instance, writes in the third person. His witty yet brutally honest observations makes readers return for more of his distinctive brand of humor. Alternatively, the Sartorialist, a man of few words, is selected as one of Time Magazine’s top 100 design influencers. The focus of his blog is photographs of stylish people on the street that caught his eye. His talent for capturing these people at their best, most inspirational moment keeps reader coming back for more. Then there is Jane from Sea of Shoes, a seventeen year old blogger from Texas, who is arguably one of the most successful newcomers coming in towards the end of the boom in 2007. Her unique sense of styling, inspirational home-made photo shoots and charming commentary won her a loyal following. After all, not many teenager girls can make an ancient granny sweater look stylish.
Apart from standing out, new fashion bloggers must also work harder to gain the reader’s trust. Previously, one of the charms of blogs was the way bloggers expressed their opinion, unconstrained by advertisers and sponsors. Now, the commercialization of fashion blogs has put the writer’s integrity into question. It provokes readers to wonder whether a fashion blogger is promoting something because they believe in it, or because they derive some sort of incentive from it. Some fashion bloggers try to use honesty to gain their reader’s trust, telling them in advance whenever a potential conflict of interest is involved. Most leading independent fashion bloggers however, choose to keep their advertising to a minimum, and try to generate revenue from other sources that do not compromise their integrity and the visual of their blogs. The author of The Sartorialist for instance, has only one advertising banner on his site. He generates most of his income through guest blogging for Style.com and a monthly page in GQ. Still some fashion bloggers, like Jane mentioned previously, choose not to advertise at all. Instead, Jane blogs for the pleasure of blogging and enjoys the perks that come along with reaching stardom. But then few bloggers can afford that luxury when maintaining a popular blog is almost a full time job.
With the explosion of the fashion blogosphere, glamorous perks are becoming much rarer. There are simply too many fashion blogs out there for brand managers to effectively identify which one suits their target demographic best. Consequently, firms previously offering free samples, now send out mass electronic press releases instead. Affiliate programs were introduced, where fashion bloggers are paid by commission when a customer directed to the parent site makes a purchase, instead of by the amount of traffic directed. Traffic based advertisements are typically more profitable, because consumers usually do not buy big ticket fashion items online. Companies specializing in blog advertising were also launched trying to bridge the gap between advertisers and fashion blogs. The intermediary fee charged by these companies took yet another bite out of the abnormal profits previously enjoyed by fashion bloggers.
Once the idea took hold, it didn’t take much to foresee the rapid growth of the fashion blogosphere. But like most up and coming industry with low barriers to entry, there was inevitably competition that drove out the weak and forced the survivors to move forward and evolve, even at a lower profit margin. As Warren Buffet recently said in the Berkshire 2009 annual report:
In the past, it required no brilliance for people to foresee the fabulous growth that awaited such industries as autos (in 1910), aircraft (in 1930) and television sets (in 1950). But the future then also included competitive dynamics that would decimate almost all of the companies entering those industries. Even the survivors tended to come away bleeding.
It seems that the fashion blogosphere is no different.
* This article is obviously a generalization of the fashion blogosphere and is not a complete representation of all fashion blogs/bloggers. There are also areas of fashion blogging that I have missed out on, simply because it didn’t really flow well with the main theme and lack of time. Hopefully, I’ll touch on those some other time. If you do get through reading this whole article, your thoughts would be appreciated!
 Online, Feisty Critics: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/08/fashion/thursdaystyles/08BLOGS.html?_r=1