“The internet is for poor people” and other watch industry insights

It’s rare to catch a glimpse beneath the hood of the watch industry. Shrouded in secrecy, all of the watch community’s suspicions about the industry exist in a state somewhere between hypothesis and conspiracy theory. Whether it’s channel stuffing, abundant backdoors from AD’s to the secondary market, or various other forms of market manipulation, it’s very difficult to know what is actually going on.

So for this week’s article, I just want to share an unusual and insightful podcast I came across with Hodinkee’s founder, Ben Clymer. Clymer appeared as a guest on A Media Operator’s podcast to discuss Hodinkee as a media business. It revealed a lot about the watch industry, casting some light on the watch community’s longstanding sentiments and conspiracy theories.

So what was covered in the conversation?

Hostility toward the internet

I’ve talked about the watch industry’s discomfort online from many different angles. Whether it’s social media, e-commerce, or memes, the internet has long appeared to be a boogeyman for the watch industry. Those hypotheses were posited based on my observations of the industry – theory – but had no significant primary source material, i.e. interviews, empirical scholarly research, etc. With such a deafening silence on this topic, there’s very little I can lean up against to analyze. But now with Clymer’s testimony, we can confirm that the watch industry is, or at the least was, deeply hostile to the internet.

“One of the first conversations I had with a very, very senior luxury executive … his response [to Hodinkee] was, ‘oh very nice to meet you, I think the internet is for poor people.’ And that was said to my face … no more than 11 years ago, probably 2009 or so … That’s the foundation with which we’re working. We’re working with a foundation that is so ridiculously, really prejudiced against online and against digital.”

– Ben Clymer

Of course, the truth of this story cannot be confirmed, but by God, that glove looks like it fits perfectly. It’s telling that Clymer uses the word “prejudiced” because I believe it’s the perfect word to describe much of the industry.

Substantial change often occurs slower than anyone wants to admit. The truth is, the watch industry is probably closer to where it was when the above executive said that incomprehensibly dumb quote. And I know, apologists for the molasses-slow online evolution of the industry will tout things like Patek Philippe joining Instagram as an example of “progress”. But with posts on Instagram only once per month, Patek Philippe’s presence on social media only further validates that luxury watchmaking doesn’t care about how online communities work.

Compromised by advertisers?

The second fascinating aspect of this discussion with Clymer has to do with Hodinkee’s revenues. He said that for years and years, brands didn’t take Hodinkee’s audience even remotely seriously for brands’ advertising efforts. As a matter of fact, e-commerce launched as a proof of concept to show the industry that Hodinkee’s readers actually do buy watches and that the internet is not a place for the “poor.”

“I said, ‘if you don’t think our audience is transactional, let us put our money where our mouth is and we will buy and design product from you and sell it only online.’ So we did that. We did limited edition watches for the first few years, and they would often sell out in the first 20 minutes or hour or two … People [in the industry] were really forced to take notice.”

– Ben Clymer

Even today, Clymer said that advertising still consists of less than 50% of their revenues. So why is this all so interesting to me? Well it opens up new nuance to explain Hodinkee’s lack of critical, analytical journalism.

For a long time, I’ve always assumed (along with many others in the community) that the absence of critique on Hodinkee coincides with their advertisers’ interests. I believed, the media outlet would never bite the hand that feeds. I didn’t imagine is that hand doesn’t really feed much at all… So here’s my new answer as to why there’s such a glaring lack of critical analysis: Hodinkee is still holding out for their big advertising payday. The lack of critical enquiry has less to do with realized revenues and more to do with the size of future advertising opportunities.

On the flipside, it’s no wonder that Hodinkee has been pushing their e-commerce in a more “lifestyle” direction, with releases such as the Travel Clock. It’s another experiment to test their “transactional audience”.


Overall, it was really nice to listen to this podcast. It seems like the only real conversations that happen publicly in the watch world do so in front of non-watch audiences, like A Media Operator’s podcast. Of course, this speaks to how hush-hush the watch industry is. I applaud Ben Clymer for talking about these things at all, in front of anyone. Regardless of where we stand on certain issues, I think we all want to hear more conversations like this, and boy oh boy, does our community need them.

Another day with the beast,

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