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That secret was officially revealed on Nov. 19 when Hearst’s chief content officer, Joanna Coles, took to the stage at the historic Los Angeles Theater to reveal the brand-new Airbnbmag.
The very first issue was distributed to a crowd of Airbnb hosts at the company’s annual Airbnb Open in Los Angeles in what Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky described as his “miniature Oprah” moment: copies were taped to the bottom of the auditorium seats.
The premier issue has 28 pages of editorial content, and is entirely devoted to Los Angeles, the host city of the Airbnb Open. Content includes “how to navigate LA,” profiles of Airbnb Superhosts, spotlights on select LA neighborhoods, and profiles of Airbnb Trips (tours and activities) in the city. There are only three advertisements: each from Airbnb Open partners (Delta Air Lines, the film La La Land, and American Express).
Next year, Coles said, Hearst will be producing two more full issues of the magazine, and that she hopes to see it on “every coffee table” of every Airbnb host.
Coles said that Airbnbmag was 18 months in the making and that she knew, within 10 minutes of her first meeting with Chesky, that the publication was born.
Unlike other travel magazines, she said, this one “taps into expertise of you guys,” speaking directly to the audience of Airbnb hosts. “Everything in it is sourced from hosts and regular travelers to LA. It’s not news around a new hotel opening. It’s real information for the world of Airbnb.”
She asked hosts for their help in developing the content for the magazine, saying, “It’s not a travel magazine … It’s a magazine about people, about experiences. It’s also going to be about the community. It’s going to be about Trips … It’s about how do you take small moments of spare time that you get and use it to transform your life.”
During their announcement, Chesky and Coles didn’t divulge details about how the magazine would be distributed or if/where consumers could purchase it.
Airbnbmag Versus Pineapple
Although Coles was adamant about emphasizing how Airbnbmag isn’t a travel magazine, it could be said that it’s much more of a travel guidebook than anything else. The magazine’s approach, which echoes Airbnb’s own branding and design ethos, opens with a short introduction from CEO Brian Chesky, followed by pages of content entirely devoted to what to do, see, eat, and experience while in Los Angeles, along with profile stories of actual Airbnb hosts sprinkled in.
It’s a somewhat divergent strategy from the one Airbnb first pursued when the company debuted Pineapple in November 2014.
While Pineapple also aimed to tell the stories of Airbnb’s host community through user-generated content, it resembled more of a literary journal than a guidebook, with some longer editorial features and pieces. It was also 128 pages in length, and focused primarily on three cities: London, Seoul, and San Francisco. Airbnb only ever published one issue of Pineapple, distributing 18,000 copies to its hosts at the time and making some copies available for purchase on newsstands.
Where Airbnbmag is the print embodiment of what Airbnb is trying to do on its app with Insider Guidebooks, Pineapple seemed to embody a somewhat loftier aspiration of what an Airbnb experience, at that time, could be. Airbnbmag’s design and its content is punchier and shorter, with bolder graphics and visuals. Pineapple’s was more subtle in its approach, more beautiful than it is bold. And now, with the addition of Airbnb Trips, Airbnbmag has the benefit of also marketing and selling actual experiences through its pages.
The Evolution of the In-Room Magazine
Comparing the new Airbnbmag to Pineapple, it’s clear that Airbnb is pursuing a content marketing approach that has evolved significantly from its first attempt in 2014. Airbnbmag, like its predecessor Pineapple, is meant to serve as a coffee table magazine, or the Airbnb version of the in-room hotel magazine, or the marketing copy that travel agent consortia often publish for their members.
Yes, it’s meant to be entertaining, aspirational, and informative but, most of all, it’s supposed to help Airbnb and its host community, sell the actual experiences it showcases in its pages. Airbnb’s decision to work with an established publisher of consumer magazines such as Hearst is a clear sign that it’s taking a somewhat more mainstream approach to marketing its new Trips and Places product.
The success of Airbnb Trips, just as it is with Homes, is dependent on the company’s ability to sell them to travelers worldwide, and Airbnb doesn’t want to miss out on any opportunity to market that message to people, whether through its own mobile app or now, its new print magazine.
And although it might be argued that the majority of Airbnb users, hosts and guests alike, are more likely to turn to digital platforms, especially social media, for their travel information and inspiration, it’s refreshing to see Airbnb pursuing this more old-school approach to content marketing through print.
Whether or not this gamble pays off, we have yet to see. Perhaps Airbnbmag’s less literary, more serviceable editorial approach can succeed where Pineapple did not. Print, after all isn’t entirely dead — even if a lot of people think it is (and this is coming from a media site that’s almost primarily digital).
If Airbnb and Hearst can work together to create a magazine that’s more evergreen, more approachable, and more useful for travelers, there’s a chance they can take this tried-and-true method of content marketing and turn it into profits and even more awareness for the brand.