Mike Isaac

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With Catalogs, Flipboard Dips Its Toe Into E-Commerce

Just in time for the holidays, Flipboard is beginning to look more shopper-friendly.

The startup, which has offered mobile magazines populated with news and editorial content from your various social streams, announced on Monday its new “catalogs” product, a way for users to browse and purchase items directly from Flipboard, much like the paper gift guides that flood mailboxes year-round.

It’s a move in line with the shift made earlier this year when Flipboard introduced “magazines,” user-curated collections of content focused on themes that can be shared with others online (both on the Web and via mobile).

At the same time, the catalog is much in the same vein as what Flipboard has always professed to be: A digital version of the stylishly laid-out, polished and paginated print magazines we’re used to receiving. And to court potential buyers, Flipboard argues, it’s much more effective to package a product ad or purchase option alongside relevant content — much like magazines pitch space to the advertisers best suited to their audience.

“The thing about products is that it’s not just about the brand, but about the lifestyle that the product expresses,” Eugene Wei, Flipboard’s head of product, said in an interview.

Flipboard’s cut comes in much like the magazine model; the startup can pitch ad space inside of catalogs to brands, which can then productize some of their goods and make them available to purchase through Flipboard. As usual, Flipboard takes a cut of the revenue from the ads appearing alongside the products.

Flipboard Curated Holiday Shopping CatalogWhile buying an item through Flipboard sounds like a clever way to reach audiences through user-curated content, the act of purchasing isn’t exactly speedy. After clicking on a buyable product (signified by a price tag), you’re linked out to the item’s buy menu on a Web page, which you’ll then have to click through and enter all your information to complete the sale.

That’s no easy ask for tablet and smartphone users, an area notorious for buying drop-off as more points of friction — or more steps in the process of buying — are introduced.

And with the user-generated, curated and productized element of all of this, I imagine it’s not terribly different from what Pinterest may look like when it decides to actually monetize its product someday. That’s a potential behemoth competitor for Flipboard to deal with.

Still, Wei positions the move as a first step for the company, which hopes to reduce friction in the buying process while getting a jump on any potential competition.

To kickstart the program, Flipboard has partnered with a handful of brands like Fab, Banana Republic and Birchbox, which will create their own catalogs — filled with their own products and house-tailored ads — for users to peruse from the shopping category in Flipboard’s digital magazine stand. The initiative rolls out on Monday.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google