May 7, 2024 - Business

Exclusive: Refinery29 will take over Beautycon


Credit: Refinery29

Refinery29 is taking over Beautycon, the country's largest beauty trade show, following its sale to Essence magazine's corporate parent, the outlet's new CEO Cory Haik told Axios.

Why it matters: It's part of a broader plan to refocus Refinery29's business away from programmatic advertising and toward more products that can be monetized directly, such as events and branded services.

Catch up quick: Essence magazine's corporate parent Sundial Media Group bought Refinery29 last month, giving the female-focused lifestyle publisher a lifeline after a tumultuous few years under Vice Media's ownership.

  • The company bought Refinery29 for roughly the same amount that the publisher made in top-line revenue in 2023, which was $30 million, a source told Axios.
  • Essence magazine parent, Essence Ventures, acquired Beautycon in 2021 and brought the event back to life in person in 2023 following a pandemic hiatus.

State of play: The Beautycon acquisition will help power Refinery29's reemergence into the events space, Haik said.

  • The event, which will be branded "R29 Beautycon," will return this November in Los Angeles. It will blend Beautycon's existing business with Refinery29's beauty vertical, both in person and online.
  • Haik also plans to bring back Refinery29's flagship ticketed event, 29Rooms, which has been dormant since 2019.
  • 29Rooms used to drive roughly one-third of Refinery29's revenues, a source noted, which speaks to the power of Refinery29's brand in cultivating community, particularly in the beauty space.

Between the lines: Beauty is Refinery29's biggest category from an ad sales perspective, Haik said.

  • It's one of the topics in which Refinery29 has true authority, she added, which has helped the company maintain a strong branded content business catered mostly to beauty, fashion and lifestyle brands.

Zoom out: The Beautycon deal and the Sundial acquisition serve as opportunities to bolster Refinery29's existing editorial franchises geared toward minority communities, such as its "Unbothered" vertical, focused on Black women, and its "Somos" vertical focused on Latina audiences.

The big picture: While Refinery29's valuation has significantly decreased in the past few years, its business is healthier and more sustainable today.

  • Refinery29's all-stock sale to Vice Media valued the publication at roughly $400 million. At the time, it brought in roughly $100 million in annual revenue, but most of that money was made from programmatic ads.
  • The publication is much less reliant today on social media traffic and is profitable and debt-free, albeit smaller.
  • The company five years ago had over 300 writers across multiple countries, including Germany. Today, it has around 100 employees total across the U.S. and the U.K., the source added.

What's next: Haik feels confident that Refinery29 will surpass last year's revenues this year and will continue to be profitable.

  • She believes in leaning more heavily into the places where it has brand authority, the company has a more sustainable future.
  • "Publishers who have built that trust in the last 20-30 years of the internet have authority," Haik said.

Go deeper: Essence's parent to buy Refinery29 from Vice Media

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