Earlier today Glenn Beck and his company Mercury Radio Arts caught a lot of people off guard when they announced that they were stepping into Groupon territory launching a ecommerce discount site Markdown.com.
“I can’t believe we managed to keep it a secret!” Mercury President and CEO Chris Balfe told me earlier today over the phone when I spoke to him and Markdown president Keith Ferry about the site, which went live earlier today with deals from longtime ad partner LifeLock.com as well as Chocolate.com.
(“Chocolate seemed a natural fit for us,” Ferry tells me, “Glenn loves food [indeed!] and can really get behind the product.”)
According to Balfe Mercury has been contemplating a play for ecommerce “for a really long time.” However, the recent success of companies like Groupon and Living Social “emboldened us to take faster action.”
That and the immediate success of Beck’s news site The Blaze, which launched last October and straightaway saw the sort of traffic most new sites spend years chasing. It grew rapidly due in large part to mentions on Beck’s radio and television shows and links in his daily newsletters. Markdown intends to take advantage of these avenues as well.
(Balfe tells me they were better prepared this time around for the traffic surges that come along with a mention on any or all of the above and gave the site many “stress tests” prior to launch.)
That’s not to say Beck is looking to replicate Groupon. The main thrust behind Markdown, Ferry says, will be “curating deals and products with our audience in mind… What will our audience like?” And Balfe notes that they are coming at it from a different angle, without the focus on local deals.
The tag line for the site is “Value and Values,” and Ferry used phrases ‘curating’ and ‘maintain trust’ a number of times during our conversation to describe what he hopes to accomplish with the site. Both speak to the unique (and enviable) position the site finds itself in.
As has been mentioned many times before Beck boasts not only a large, but a devoted audience (the Wall St. Journal today described them as “rabid”). Evidence of how devoted was on display last August when hundreds of thousands of people showed up on the National Mall for Restoring honour rally.
From a business standpoint it’s apparent every time Beck mentions a book on his television show (even one he professes to hate) and immediately sends it to the top of the Amazon charts. It’s the same devotion that has made Beck’s subscription service Insider Extreme so hugely popular; people will pay for his product.
It also gives Mercury the unusual advantage of knowing the audience they are a selling to and subsequently mitigates the amount of experimenting that necessarily goes into most new businesses.
With that in mind it seems only natural that Beck and company would take the next step and begin to monetise the impressive power of their recommendations. Essentially Mercury is building a ecommerce site around the Glenn Beck brand but to sell items that are not branded Glenn Beck beyond his stamp of approval.
In fact, perhaps the only thing that’s surprising about this development is that Oprah Winfrey (a figure to whom Beck has been previously compared) hasn’t done so before now. (Oprahsfavoritethings.com anyone?).
Where Beck is concerned the possibilities appear multitude. I asked Ferry and Balfe whether they could foresee expanding Markdown to include deals on books and travel packages (Beck’s upcoming Restoring Courage rally in Israel this summer seems a natural fit, though it’s already been outsourced to a independent travel agency) and Ferry said both were likely possibilities.
It will also provide Mercury a platform to reach out to new ad partners and well as provide a new platform to advertisers Beck has worked with for many years through his radio show.
It may also provide a revenue platform for smaller businesses: Ferry reiterated to me what Beck himself had noted in the release, namely that Markdown is open to offering deals with smaller businesses they think might be a fit with their audience.
Where Markdown will fit in the larger Beck business picture remains to be seen. As noted in today’s long New York piece on Fox News and Roger Ailes Beck earned more than 90% of his reported $40 million income from non-Fox activities, a number which underscores not only the thriving business he has built as well but his lack of dependence on Fox… at least monetarily speaking (platform-wise may or may not be another story).
I asked Balfe how he saw Markdown fitting into the larger Mercury Radio Arts financial picture. Balfe noted that it was far to early to get any sense numbers-wise where Markdown was heading — currently Ferry is the president and only employee, though based on today’s volume of traffic I am told that might change by tomorrow — but that they plan to grow it into a “really big business.”
One imagines there are a lot of media figures and companies who will be paying close attention to exactly how that is accomplished.