Today, everybody's in the content business.
But it wasn't always so. In the final years of the last millennium, a print catalog for a teen retailer called Delia*s started showing up addressed to me. I always read the thing cover-to-cover—not for the chunky sandals or stackable lip gloss, but for the narrative. There was a single storyline that ran through every catalog; the text on each page corresponded in some way to whatever outfit or accessory appeared there. None of it was sophisticated. Sometimes Delia*s had Mad Libs-style fill in the blanks. Sometimes it was just a poorly written poem that appeared in 1990s LeTeRriNg LiKe THis. I thought it was brilliant anyway.
Today, those glorious vintage catalogs are listed for as much as $10 apiece on eBay, a retailer that's about to make its own leap into the storytelling business.
Of course, we're used to brands telling stories by now. Pepsi has its own pop culture website, Pepsi Pulse, that curates top-trending entertainment stories from social publishing platforms. Red Bull has its own magazine. MiniCooper, too. All kinds of brands rightly obsess over their Twitter and Facebook publishing strategies.
And so: eBay is hiring editors and long-form writers to help turn its site into a "digital magazine," according to president of eBay Marketplaces Devin Wenig. Since October, the company has had a "chief content curator" act as editor of the site. You can see the beginnings of this digital magazine take shape at "EBay Today," a page that highlights different items or themes with blurbs of information and backstories—and, of course, links to products you can buy. The Pinterest influence seems obvious here, and eBay curates visually-rich collections by sellers on the page. But Wenig told me in an interview that the site is set to dramatically expand its foray into content. He wants eBay to be a retail-publisher, not a social network.