I’ve been so looking forward to the Preserve launch as I’ve worked in the digital lifestyle sphere for years, both as a freelance writer and in-house managing editor for Vitamin Daily. I can’t remember a website unveiling that has caused such a kerfuffle. Clearly the “lifestyle” genre has taken over the web because we have an insatiable demand for content. Celebrity photos, fashion, links to “important” reads, maybe a bit of sports, a recipe, current events – we want all of this, but we certainly don’t want to spend the day looking for it. This one-stop mentality has led to an abundance of online stewards – websites that decide what you should look at, read and buy. And seeing as celebrities are part of the “everyone does everything” culture, it’s an inevitable evolution of their branding.
But lifestyle is no cakewalk. The sites that do it well make it look easy, but it’s hard work, and it’s really expensive to launch a lifestyle vertical. Editorial, photography, web design, newsletters – it’s very time consuming and costly to get the bare minimum.
Maintaining it is a different animal because you have to constantly be on the lookout for the latest and greatest and testing new products that are of use to real people, striking a balance between aspirational and accessible. To give you an idea of what a beast this is, Daily Candy, a pioneer in the online lifestyle industry, was shuttered (along with Television Without Pity) in the spring. It was shocking, as year after year they maintained impeccable editorial standards and kept up with online trends (like e-commerce and video). Simply put, it’s not as easy at it looks and it’s much too involved and expensive to be a hobby, even for an actress that only works a few months out of a year.
Even if she has investors, Blake put some serious bank into creating Preserve and she’s not just offering pretty pictures and a few articles – the e-commerce aspect is quite prominent (more on this later).
So let’s dig in. First off, it’s hard to find Preserve through a simple search, which is the danger of picking such an ordinary name. Say what you want about Goop, but when you type Goop into a search bar, it is without a doubt the one and only.
So I finally found it linked through another article – www.preserve.us.
My first thought: I’m shocked they went with a black background and white (cream yellow, grey) text. There is a reason most websites have a white background with black text and pops of colour: Legibility. I’ve seen many websites try to fiddle with this formula out of the desire to be different, but it usually ends up back to white background/black text. And with Preserve, we can see why. It’s not a friendly look or read. I get that they were going for edgy luxe, but it hinders the user experience. The fonts are a mess – some are utilitarian, some are whimsical, some are old-fashioned. The photos look drab and the whole thing feels very heavy – definitely not an aesthetic I would associate with blonde and sunny Blake.
There are 8 editorial sections: Taste, Home, Style, Intimacy (“the precious exposure of your husband’s cheeks after a clean shave”), Projects (which I think will be fancy crafts), Culture, Celebration (I fully expect to see fancy dessert tables) and Wellness (healthy living and New Age-type stuff). We were promised groundbreaking, Blake! All of those categories are standard lifestyle fare, which can be fine if it is done well. As for the nuts and bolts, the navigation is a little clunky; when looking at articles I found myself having to exit out to get to the main page, I had trouble going back to stories and it was all a little cumbersome.
The idea of savouring and saving is woven throughout, like if the reader enjoys a story they can tuck it away in their online profile (preserve… get it?), which isn’t groundbreaking since many websites have a “favourites” feature. So far, not much to see or get excited about here. As Sarah from Cinesnark said, it looks like Etsy with editorial.
There’s also a video – something about a little girl in a boho dress who likes to sketch while sitting under a tree and surprise that little girl is Blake and she is so real as demonstrated by the typewriter and candles in mason jars and young people jumping in a swimming hole and working class people being all salt-of-the-earth. It’s not as terribly cliché as the Brooklyn Girls video, but it’s hardly innovative. It’s a little boring, really.
As mentioned, e-commerce plays a big part of Preserve. Usually an online magazine would hold off on monetization until they’ve established a rapport with the audience, but as a celebrity, Blake has a built-in level of trust. She gets to skip over providing months worth of good content because she comes to us Wintour-approved. We know who Blake is and what she stands for (publicly), so she’s wasting no time in recommending items. There’s a huge mix of stuff from maxi dresses to jeans to artisanal salt to gourmet hot fudge to stationery to pillows. To be honest, it’s nothing I haven’t seen covered before, but it’s still quaint and could definitely be a, “I need a Cereal Killer spoon” Monday night purchase. Do I want this crescent moon for my son’s room? Yes, I admit that I do. And I wouldn’t be embarrassed to buy something off of Blake’s site, whereas I feel like a bit of an asshole when I buy things from Goop. Asshole by association, I guess.
My gripe about the online shopping is that many of the images have that nostalgic Instagram look to them. If I’m going to buy a dress I need close-up pictures with good light so I can see the fabric and the stitching and the fit – life doesn’t come with a filter, I need details. It’s like they have the hip dial turned to 10 when really a 5 will do.
Look, it’s easy to sh-t on a project like this, and I suspect that it will go through a “refresh” (celebrity speak for rebranding) soon just to lighten it up and make the navigation simpler. Ultimately, where Blake actually differentiates herself from her celebrity peers is in her earnestness. Whether it’s genuine or not is up for debate, but she’s not elitist like Goop or standoffish like Jessica Alba. She’s presenting herself as curious and sincere, not the worst two qualities one could possess. But is it enough to set Preserve apart in such a cut-throat and competitive space? Let’s see.