Copy has always been important to online retailers. For obvious reasons, a well-written product description, for instance, is likely to produce more sales than the standard manufacturer’s version.

But there’s a new trend: online retailers going beyond product descriptions and building content-rich properties run in large part by folks from the publishing world.

As WWD.com observes, “A new kind of magazine has indeed arrived online and it’s bringing editors into the sales business. For the last year, fast-growing online retail companies like Gilt and Net-a-porter in the U.K. have been scooping up orphans from the magazine world with the idea that editorial content can help them drive sales”.

While this trend is still in its earliest stages, there’s good reason to believe that it will continue. For starters, online retailers are realizing that content can be a crucial part of sales.

Groupon is one of the best examples of that, and now, companies like Gilte Groupe and Net-a-porter are taking content well beyond a snazzy product description.

For editors and journalists, there’s the reality that many parts of the publishing world are contracting. The best jobs and opportunities may not be in traditional publishing roles, but in new positions like those being created by online retailers. So companies looking to mix retail and content have a huge pool of talent from which to recruit.

Obviously, there are some thorny issues here. Many from the publishing world hold dear to their hearts the values of editorial and journalistic integrity. Producing content that is essentially copy for retail is therefore likely to make some uneasy.

But even in traditional settings, these values aren’t always present in their purest form. Ruth Reichl, who was previously editor in chief of Gourmet and a New York Times food critic, recently joined Gilt Groupe, explained, “You have a normal magazine and you create editorial, and then it gets surrounded
by ads for a lot of things you don’t like. Here we have to be involved in what
we’re selling as well
“.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, there’s always the risk that the line between journalism and sales will blur. But the reality is that many magazines, for instance, are already in the business of selling product even though their publishers aren’t retailers.

Most legitimate retailers aren’t interested in selling a false bill of goods, and there’s nothing wrong creating ‘stories‘ around products.

At the end of the day, retailers and traditional publishing folks will probably discover that they’re a perfect match. The first date may be a little bit awkward, but there’s no doubt we’re looking at a long-term relationship here.