The closing of Gourmet and Modern Bride magazines just hit the newswires today. Two more publications that have a clearly-defined audience but weren’t able to provide enough ad revenue. (Some reports say that Gourmet’s ad revenue was down 50% over last year.) Gourmet’s editor, Ruth Reichl had moved the publication beyond just the print media to websites and a television series, but that wasn’t enough to save it.
Quoted in the AP release the celebrity food editor, Bobby Flay, seemed very stoic:
“The transition from hard paper to the Internet is not as easy as it should be. We just take it as a sign of the way things are going to be now.”
AP writer, J.M. Hirsch, put forth this opinion:
“Gourmet’s demise also illustrates the change in how power is held in the food world. The ability of print media to make — or break — anything is waning. Increasingly, it is the viral aspect of social networking and blogging that gives rise to new faces, places and flavors.”
Both reactions paint a pretty grim picture of the future of print publications, even with a fairly robust internet or social media strategy. Gourmet had the following:
• Website with both daily content and archives of recipes, restaurants, etc.
• Online forums
• Facebook page
• YouTube channel with lots of recipe demonstrations
• Podcasts on iTunes
• Three Twitter accounts (the magazine’s editor, the travel section’s editor and the magazine itself)
So what went wrong? Why didn’t all of this activity add up to some meaningful revenue? Are bloggers and the millions of social networkers really adding more value than a respected food critic and her team of experts could create?
I still believe that quality content has value that will either support subscription fees and / or advertising dollars, but no one in the industry is thinking radically enough. Some approaches for consideration:
• Ruth Reichl and her team could have created a tightly-knit group of blogs – each referencing the other – along with a group of Wikis on various topics. The end result would have been a Gourmet blogging channel about cooking, restaurants and travel. They would need to think like bloggers in terms of how they reached out and pulled in readers. They would need to “hire in” competing bloggers instead of going through the usual HR process to bring on “staff”. They would have to stop thinking like what they were doing was just the online version of a print publication.
• Conde Nast could have looked at all the readers of their various publications and asked themselves who they had a relationship with and what – in fact – they were bringing to those relationships. They could have created a support staff for all of their writers and editors across all publications, but dropped the hierarchical relationship between the two. Let the writers become bloggers and the editors their creative mentors, not their bosses. If some bloggers became “stars”, pay them more. The support staff would handle the techie stuff and consistently monitor the social web for places and people to reach out to.
• Some really visionary entrepreneur could create the internet version of cable television. On it would be quality content subscribed to by users as well as supported by advertisers. The Conde Nasts and the New York Times of the world would all live there. Doesn’t someone believe that people would pay a monthly fee for valuable “programming” on the internet, not just on TV?