One of the things that sets Net-a-Porter apart from its online competitors is former journalist Natalie Massenet’s brainwave of pairing designer clothing for sale alongside snappy editorial web content – and a glossy magazine sent out to her customers. It’s a formula that keeps fans loyal, and Net-a-Porter’s success (a database of 3m unique users and 170 countries so far) has inspired other retailers to employ journalists to produce customer magazines, as well as branded online e-zines, blogs, video and shopping guides.

Massenet’s new men’s wear site, Mr Porter, boasts a formidable masthead. On the editorial side it has editor-in-chief Jeremy Langmead, a former Wallpaper and Esquire editor, as well as Dan May, previously executive fashion director at 10 magazine, and Jodie Harrison, who was an executive style and grooming editor at GQ.

The mid-market designer fashion site is unveiling a new print and online magazine this month, headed by Fiona McIntosh, a former Grazia columnist and editor-in-chief at Bauer Media, following a $9m venture capital investment last year. Last month Ebay Fashion, the new fashion arm of Ebay, hired Andrea Linett, former creative director of Condé Nast’s Lucky magazine, to take the company’s fashion kudos up a notch with editorial features.

Last year Harrods hired Nicola Copping, formerly the FT’s deputy style editor, to oversee its expanding online editorial content. “We believe retail sites should be offering a more enriching experience for their customers,” says Copping. “This next London Fashion Week will be featuring in-depth coverage from the front row, with reviews of the brands stocked on the website, as well as video content and a photo gallery of the fashionistas at the event.”

The online fashion retailer Asos has, perhaps, gone the furthest towards merging the shopping and reading experience. The print magazine it launched in 2006 now has a controlled circulation of 450,000, second only to Glamour magazine in the UK – and that’s without selling it on newsstands. It carries advertising and is sent direct to customers.

“Mail-out magazines are a great way to create a shop floor for online retailers when they don’t have a physical space,” says Julia Hutchison, chief operating officer of the Association of Publishing Agencies, the trade body for customer publishers. And in a recession, this niche market is providing jobs for journalists, rather than old-fashioned copywriters: “Journalists have a different skill set. They know how to engage the readers, and engage communities of readers,” says Hutchison.

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