F+W CEO on journey from print to ecommerce

Customers and advertisers and important, but before you get your team behind your vision, you’re not going anywhere

When he joined in 2008, chairman and CEO David Nussbaum implemented the idea of change. He explained to attendees at the Digital Innovators’ Summit today – “we are no longer a publishing company, we are now a digital company”. F+W Media was first rebranded in 2010 by becoming a “delivery-agnostic community-focused provider” with 21 ecommerce stores, which amounted to five per cent of its revenue at the time. 

Part of a digital company is that you pivot the move to change

The company’s latest rebrand took place this year – now as a content and e-commerce company, its focus lies within providing instruction, inspiration and exclusive goods and services to what they call “enthusiasts”, rather than simply customers. Of all the purchases made, only 10 per cent are print products and the remaining 90 per cent is “everything else around the product”, Nussbaum said. 

A digital-first philosophy driven by core values 

Nussbaum said that staying true to the company’s core values and adapting around these is what drives F+W’s business philosophy. These values are:


“Whether you’re a print company or a goods manufacturer, nothing is more important than the community you serve”, Nussbaum pointed. F+W services niche markets and its employees are experts in the communities they serve.


The classic subscription option is still in place, but the key is to offer a direct-to-consumer, one-stop shop which enables customers to purchase exclusive products promptly.


Before its first rebranding, F+W media was already deeply indexed on Google, a feature which most companies do not set out by having. However, these companies modelled themselves after Amazon and it is important to know that you “can’t just sell on price alone”, Nussbaum said, adding that with this in mind, they built a business that houses a variety of content, not just print. 


The products, services and goods made available to customers should be curated according to their needs and skills. According to Nussbaum, “the Web is a horrible place if you just want to jump into it – you will get lost”. F+W has aimed to become a hub of like-minded people who speak the same language as their audiences, offering them a journey to their goals, not just a shopping experience.

We have to control our environment and know our consumers – who they are and what their passion is

The year Nussbaum joined the company, print sales were rapidly declining and there was a number of four companies controlling the market, including Amazon and Barnes&Noble. In 2010, F+W sold or shut down a portion of its myriad of communities, focusing on the ones with greater depth and setting out to build a digital team. Now amounting to 19 per cent of the company’s total workforce, the digital arm has helped F+W to become “the Amazon of its communities” – a retail channel catering to consumers’ preferences. 

Build communities through email 

“Email is a vital driver of ecommerce”, Nussbaum stressed. F+W Media has leveraged this and its email list in 2014 amounted to 7.9 million people, growing almost eight times since 2010. This enables them to reach a broader range of consumers with their own innovative products, such as Kits+Bundles. A unique service with an average price of $58.77, it offers curated digital and physical packages sold together, alongside an educational video on how to use them. 

Online video is the next great way in the digital world

F+W’s next steps involve a focus on online video, facilitated by moving to a Thought Industries platform, but also launching a peer-to-peer handmade marketplace, such as Etsy.com and building a VIP+Loyalty program. “It is crucial to identify our best customers and offer them our best service”, Nussbaum concluded. 

Story by Madalina Ciobanu.

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