(A Santa clause: Spoilers lie ahead.)
Last week Condé Nast debuted a free web app called Santa’s Hideout, a registry for children’s Christmas gifts. Kids browse a virtual toy store and build a wish list; parents set spending limits and share the list with friends and family. If someone buys a gift, Santa checks it off the list for all elves (but not kids) to see. Kids can even write to Santa, and the reply arrives with spoofed email headers from the North Pole.
Cool app. So why is a magazine publisher building it?
“I guess I would start there and say that we don’t consider ourselves only a magazine publisher,” said Drew Schutte, the chief integration officer at Condé Nast.
“A year or so we took the word ‘publications’ off the building and took it off of our business cards,” he told me. “There was this final commitment to the fact that we are a company that makes quality content…and we’re going to put that on whatever medium it makes sense.”
It’s a startup-like approach that more media companies are taking as they try to diversify revenue.
Santa’s Hideout is the company’s second offshoot app, after Idea Flight. Neither app bears Condé branding; both have a built-in revenue model. Idea Flight, an iPad app for business presentations, is a free download with paid feature upgrades. Santa’s Hideout is powered by Amazon’s API, and as participants in Amazon’s Associates program the company gets a cut of every purchase.
The head elf was Julianna Stock, who manages a small team of digital experimenters at Condé Nast. The idea came when Stock asked her son what he wanted for Christmas and he refused to answer. He had already told Santa, he said. “I was sort of in a quandary and I felt like I needed a solution,” Stock said. And that’s the mission of her team: Solve problems as you encounter them, even if the solution does not have an obvious business application.
“You never know where that’s going to lead,” Schutte said. “This product…may sell on its own right. Maybe the software has applicability across the company. Maybe it’s something that we spin off into another company one day.”
Editor’s Note: You can find more examples of news organizations selling non-news products in our 2011 holiday gift guide.