Marissa Mayer is apparently rolling the dice on digital magazines

Marissa Mayer — who made a splash wit some product grabs (Tumblr) and some people grabs (Katie Couric, David Pogue) recently — gave a Yahoo (Yahoo!) keynote at CES 2014 and talked about some of Yahoo’s upcoming plans. It was an entertainment-driven event, to be sure — Cecily Strong from Saturday Night Live did a faux-newscast, and John Legend sang, and Yahoo talked about how they have 800 million monthly users, 400 million of whom are on mobile (the future!). David Pogue appeared to speak, as did Katie Couric.

They even threw a nod to Reddit culture in their presentation:

“Yahoo News Digest, at its core, simplifies news and solves the problem of information overload and TL;DR,” said Yahoo product manager Nick D’Aloisio, referring to an acronym for ‘Too Long; Didn’t Read.’

Maybe the most interesting thing was this bet on “digital magazines” that cover food and tech. The tech side is going to be David Pogue’s thing — he says it will be “jargon-free and cool-looking” — and you can kind of imagine that this project is, for him, what Grantland was for Bill Simmons or MMQB was for Peter King (sorry for the sports analogies, but that’s kind of what I understand more). That part seems cool — I think it will have a good, splashy launch and drive a lot of traffic therein, but the key with it (just like the key with any site/application) will be to keep people coming back and the user base growing, because ultimately that’s what advertisers will care about. It appears that Yahoo is abandoning — or at least scaling back — the idea of banner ads and display ads, and will instead weave ads into content (but clearly label them as ads). That’s a big thing you’re seeing now; Facebook does it too, and quite often.

The Yahoo Food thing — some more info here — seems like a little bit of a reach. It’s supposed to be light content and image-heavy stuff, but aren’t people getting that from any number of food websites and/or Pinterest? Yahoo has a strong user base and good partnerships on the food idea, but it seems like that’s a pretty saturated market (especially if you know how to use Google Recipe view, and even more especially if the idea of a “smart refrigerator” that can scan your contents and tell you what to make ever becomes a big thing). I don’t think Yahoo’s going to be particularly successful on that side, but I’ve been wrong before.

Mayer said that digital magazines are a “core part of (Yahoo’s) long-term vision,” which is interesting because, again, that seems like a crowded marketplace. I’m not saying a company should avoid entering a crowded marketplace, and she’s (Mayer) assembled some good, name-recognition-friendly talent people at Yahoo in terms of new content, but I just don’t know if a beautifully-designed digital magazine is going to drive advertisers into a frenzy. There’s ton of beautiful shit online that no one looks at because it’s hard to find, they don’t know about it, someone hasn’t told them about it, or whatever. If the Yahoo integration of these magazines is strong with social, that would be a positive development. On surface, I kinda feel like a lot of this will have big, well-publicized launches and then fade into the “something you click once in a while or find via another search/social” ether within 4-5 weeks.

Indeed, though, content is king with these verticals. Here’s a live blog of Mayer’s entire presentation if you want to scroll through some of the ideas contained therein. Some, like The Street, seem to think these ideas are great. Some others? Not so much.

And some want to know how it will affect advertising:

And this notion is important with all new leaders, especially in the tech world:

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Yahoo in 2014 and beyond. It’s never going to dominate search (er, Google), but this content strategy is interesting. If the marketing is there, the content is solid, and the integration with social/ability to share is there, it could be strong — well, at least Pogue’s. I really feel like there’s already enough options to find recipes and cool pictures of food out there.

Ted Bauer