Gourmet, 86ed

Shocking news this morning that Gourmet, the Talmud of food, is closing – less shocking that Condé Nast is also folding Cookie, Modern Bride, and Elegant Bride, all apparently a case of the other Monolo dropping after McKinsey dug into Condé’s closets.

(Disclosures: I worked in Condé for bits of a dozen years as a corporate online guy. I was privileged to be there when Epicurious was started around Gourmet and the surviving Bon Appetit. When the company bought Modern Bride, I twice worked on its digital presence and strategy. Oh, well.)

When Condé folded Portfolio, I said it didn’t yet presage the death of magazines, only of magazine launches. Well, that “yet” has arrived and now magazines are going to start dropping like newspapers – faster, even, for there’s more direct competition among the slicks.

We will see at least one business magazine go after BusinessWeek is sold. One or even all three of the general-interest news magazines is toast. There’ll be death among women’s magazines. Men’s magazines are already sinking. Showbiz magazines will have more and trouble competing with online (I fear for my baby, Entertainment Weekly). Watch for blood in the trade publishing business as blogs beat B-to-B magazines in service and efficiency.

Magazines as a medium won’t die and when ads come back – or at least stop falling – the survivors will get a gulp of oxygen (AdAge reports that magazine revenue fell 6.9% last year). But it still won’t be pretty. The valuable FitchRatings media report, which I received just today, decrees:

Fitch remains skeptical about the ability of magazines to profitably make the digital transition. Fitch believes the larger players will seek to rationalize available print advertising inventory through consolidation and closing down titles. The remaining players will have scale through portfolios of top brands in demographics that are attractive to advertisers, but sustainable profitability remains uncertain as advertiser sentiment is likely to continue to shift away from print mediums.

Fitch is prescient about Condé: It is closing multiple magazines in a category and keeping the strongest. Bon Appetit is the winner, I’d imagine, because its demographic is younger and its cost lower. Brides is the better brand in that category. When Condé bought Modern Bride, it thought it owned the category but was shocked to see that in the meantime, the No. 1 brand among brides – a market that is replaced every 18 months – has become The Knot. That’s how fast a venerable brand can sink from preeminence.

I used to buy magazines by the ton (especially when I had an expense account to support the habit). I loved rifling through them. I loved working on them. But now I have all but stopped reading them in print. I still read magazine stories now and then but, like everything else in my media day, I come to them through links, from peers and aggregators. Just as other media have been disaggregated – the atomic unit is no longer the album but the song, the equivalent in news was the publication or the section or the article and now is the post – so is the essential element of the magazine no longer the publication but now the article, at least for now. So what separates a magazine article now from a newspaper article or a blog post except, perhaps, length (and online, length is often seen as a liability)?

Packaging used to be a key value of magazines: the great editor selecting the interesting topics and good writers and cooking a meal out of it. But in the era of media unbundling, the magazine becomes an instant anachronism. Reading the New Yorker or Economist or Vanity Fair becomes an act of living nostalgia, at least for those who can remember them. For the next generation reading magazines and newspapers and buying albums is – haven’t we learned this yet? – an alien experience, a media oddity.

So go to the newsstand today and look around. You’ll never see so many magazines again. One by one, like the trees they used to kill, they will fall. Some will remain standing, stronger because they’re not competing for sunlight and nutrition. But magazines as a medium and an industry will only shrink.

As a former magazine man, am I sad about that? What’s the point of emotions? It’s economics. As I’ve been saying about my cancer:It is what it is. There are new and wonderful ways to tell stories and to curate good and interesting work and so the value of the magazine can continue even if the form cannot.

  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com/blog Patrick Thornton

    @Jeff,

    I think magazines will have it worse than even newspapers. While newspapers have been slow to grasp online and slow to learn to build products that work online, magazines have a product that just doesn’t make sense online. Long magazines articles are a chore to read online, but newspaper stories are much easier to make into blog posts.

    And how is a cooking magazine ever going to compete with a good cooking Web sites that has a a database of recipes and how-to videos? I still subscribe to The Economist because it’s still a high-value product, but the 3 big Americans news magazines are doomed. They have a poor product in a dying format.

  • Richard Warzecha

    Wouldn’t necessarily argue about the main premise, but we probably need to qualify the claim with “mass market print magazines”.

    With low volume or personalized printing, who knows what new format of a “magazine” might be successful tomorrow or ten years from now.

    Those with ingenuity and the right timing may find niches some of us mortals can’t even imagine today.

  • Chelsea in Omaha

    For the next generation reading magazines and newspapers and buying albums is – haven’t we learned this yet? – an alien experience, a media oddity.

    Thank you for your post. As a 22-year-old that just got a degree in Marketing Communications, I will admit the future does not look bright for print publications. However, I am an “old soul” when it comes to media and yearn everyday to read my hard-copy black and white newsprint (NYT) and my subscriptions to multiple magazines.

    Do I read articles online as well? Sure I do! But I am an ardent supporter of print and am confident I am not alone. However, it does seem that my fellow generational supporters may also just be students of the media…which could be the problem, or the solution, should we focus our energy on finding a new way to understand our generation, monetize the industry, and keep these publications afloat.

    • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com/blog Patrick Thornton

      I’m a journalist — one who has been printed in many newspapers — and even I don’t yearn to read a print copy of a newspaper every day. Occasionally is fine; The Sunday paper still works for me but daily? That would be a massive waste.

  • http://www.bigflannel.com Mike_Hartley

    ‘Packaging used to be a key value of magazines: the great editor selecting the interesting topics and good writers and cooking a meal out of it.’

    Packaging is not just the content mix, but the means of presentation. The mix of images and words, the image edit, the fonts and the layout, the writer, their heritage. In our highly visually literate culture, this still has value, and as online evolves and grows, this will become more important as sites try to differentiate themselves to compete for ad dollars (think The Daily Beast vs Newser).

    The magazine is not dead, the format will live on. Its publication medium, print, is dieing. There is no reason a website cannot create the same brand value for an advertiser as print does. The relationship between the reader and the brand was what the advertiser sought, what defines something as a magazine, and that can be reproduced online.

    Equally I agree with Richard Warzecha. We are seeing more albums (yes vinyl) now than we have for years, it may not be the mainstream business model, but print will exist as a niche.

    • http://martincloake.wordpress.com Martin Cloake

      “The magazine is not dead, the format will live on. Its publication medium, print, is dieing. There is no reason a website cannot create the same brand value for an advertiser as print does.”

      Get 20 Vogue magazine readers. Sit them in a room. Tell them they will no longer get their monthly fix of glossy luxury, and they’ll have to make do with the (very good) website instead. Then let’s have a conversation about the quote above :-)

      • http://www.bigflannel.com Mike_Hartley

        I’m sure the first printing press didn’t turn out a great print magazine. I’m sure Apple will provide a decent solution, good for us, not so hot for the print publishers (as they did for music publishers). Vogue readers will love it. The internet is more fashionable than fashion itself right now. Let’s just hope the people at Condé realize that!

  • http://www.steamykitchen.com jaden

    I love magazines. Books are too long, req’ too much commitment, but magazines are designed for people with short attention spans and little snippets of time. Every month, when Gourmet arrives, I immediately place it in my computer bag, saving it for that month’s upcoming travel. It’s the only thing I looked forward to during the flight! Oh, I’ll miss Gourmet!

  • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

    Tell me… Why can’t Gourmet and *Bride recast themselves as the food and bridal sections of several hundred newspapers and monetize by mixing national advertising with local ads sold by the newspaper ad staff? Papers have used Parade as an insert for decades… Why not “insert” Gourmet and *Bride in their websites?

    bob wyman

    • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

      Parade gets only (junky) direct-response ads, not branding ads. Newspaper distribution is falling and untargeted and would be of no real value to a Gourmet or its advertisers (too many Jell-O salad readers).

    • http://wyman.us/ Bob Wyman

      I was intrigued to read in the New York Times about the synergy between Curbed.com and The Village Voice. Apparently, Curbed provides content to the Village Voice but also leverages their ad sales network to get ads placed on the Curbed site. This is a good thing. The Village Voice gets useful content and expands the breadth of the product that their ad sales folk have to offer while Curbed gets easier access to revenues.

      See: http://dealbook.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/05/a-partnership-between-old-and-new-media/

      bob wyman

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  • http://martincloake.wordpress.com Martin Cloake

    Beware of drawing the general from the specific. It’s very sad about the closure, but there are still plenty of special interest mags that are doing well enough to keep going. Two I read are Runner’s World and World Soccer. There are also a wealth of trade magazines that serve specific sectors very well, and which in some cases are combining healthily with online offerings to offer something new and and better. Take a look at RBI’s stable for example.
    Gourmet’s closure is sad, but what it means is that Conde Nast has closed it. There are other specialist food mags, other mags, and print is still going to be around for a while yet. I’m not advocating complacency or saying times are not hard, but we really can be very pessimistic as a trade sometimes.
    And as for magazines becoming an anachronism the fashion journalism students at the college where I teach in London who have just started a magazine society may beg to differ. But what do they know, eh?

    • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com/blog Patrick Thornton

      Do you have data and figures to back this up? I suspect your being unreasonably rosy about these special interests mags. Magazines are in for a world of hurt that I think will be worse than what has happened to newspapers.

      How the heck will Runner’s World the magazine compete with a multimedia Web site? A Web site that may even allow runners to log their times and distances every day and compare those to runners around the world?

      • http://martincloake.wordpress.com Martin Cloake

        Well, we wouldn’t anyone to be “unreasonably rosy” I guess, we do like a bit of doom and gloom :-) Some magazines will close. Others won’t. Runner’s World the magazine doesn’t have to compete with its website. They operate together, offering different things. I use the website a lot. I also like to read the magazine – it’s very handy for when I haven’t got anything to plug into or my iPhone battery is low. (I also prefer reading a print page to an iPhone screen.) If Runner’s World closes, you can thumb your nose at me, but the data and figures in this case are that it is still being produced.

        Mags like RW and World Soccer have strong subscriptions bases, which enables a certain amount of forward planning and knowledge of readers’ wants. It’s why I specifically mentioned special interest mags. I also mentioned London-based RBI, a business publisher. Titles such as Flight International, Farmers Weekly and Community Care operate successful websites and print editions which complement each other. Staff on Computer Weekly say that the print edition drives people to the web, and the web drives print subs. See, complementary use of multiplatform media.

        Take a magazine like the UK’s Take a Break. It still sells over a million copies a week. Its readers identify with what they see in its pages, they like to sit down with the mag and a cuppa and read it and do the puzzles. They could read the stories and do puzzles online. But they prefer the print version – not everyone is as tied to their computers as us media types. Personally, I think there is room for developing an online community around TaB – but publisher Bauer was never interested in doing this. But selling a million a week does make you think you’re doing something right.

        Mags such as Grazia and heat succeeded partly because people liked to be seen with them in their handbags – a status symbol, a badge of honour and style and attitude that sitting in front of a computer surfing on your own can never give.

        I could go on (and I will on my blog martincloake.wordpress.com) but the point is that too many people are generalising about the future of print. One mag has closed. Others may. It doesn’t mean mags are dead any more than the fact that the England football international is being streamed only on the internet means that television is dead.

        General news in print is in trouble – that’s where instant delivery and update and multiplatform approaches really put the classic model of journalism on paper under threat. There are many other kinds of journalism and many other kinds of publication that can thrive, will thrive, and which are not throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

        I stand by my assertion that much ‘analysis’ of print’s future is merely doommongering.

  • http://www.rosenblumtv.com Rosenblum

    First they came for the communists and I did not speak out because I was not a communists….

    TV is next. Stand by…

    • http://wyman.us Bob Wyman

      What about books? When will their time come? or, will it?

  • http://www.narainjashanmal.com Narain Jashanmal

    Am presently attending the Distripress Conference in Phoenix, AZ. Was at a forum session yesterday given by Samir “Mr. Magazine” Hosni that touched on this very topic. He presented the flip side of the argument and cited a statistic that 71 new magazines launched in the USA in September 09 alone. The underlying thesis to his presentation was that magazine publishers have killed themselves by being first hooked on selling cheap subs to essentially buy circ to prop up their rate-base to justify expensive rate cards and that they’ve subsequently further buried themselves by giving away their content for free online.

    He cited Monocle as an example of recently launched (2 years ago, anyway) magazine that has successfully built a very healthy circ revenue stream, that charges a premium over for subs and is building a strong portfolio of revenue generating brand extensions (shops, podcasts, limited edition products).

    Overall he’s in favor of such ventures and if more are on the way he’s pretty bullish about the future of print.

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  • http://rexblog.com Rex Hammock

    Let’s just say, I will agreeably disagree with you on this one.

    Couldn’t agree more with you that magazines like the ones you worked on will die.

    But I’m working on more magazine launches — for clients — than ever before.

    Granted, my corner of the magazine world is all about using multiple forms of media focused on the passions people have for a specific cause, interest or product.

    The magazines I produce don’t fit neatly in the “magazine business model” rather, they are supporting other business models (donations, memberships, event attendance fees).

    Narrow niches. Not advertising supported. Audiences of passionate customers.

    Magazines are the only “push” medium left that people actually look forward to.

    Rex

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  • http://postadvertising.com Kirk Cheyfitz

    As I’ve written repeatedly, to little avail, the publishing business keeps talking about charging for content and “fixing” journalism. But it isn’t journalism that’s broken, it’s traditional advertising. Just this morning, eMarketer reported on new studies that say the audience for banner ads is rapidly dwindling to nothing and no one. Yet magazines and newspapers, in print and online, refuse to re-think how they define advertising and as long as they refuse, the ads they sell will continue not to work and their ad revenue will continue to shrink. This is suicide by lack of imagination; self-immolation by refusal to change. It’d very sad. For more on this sad state of affairs and how to fix it, I submit for your consideration: http://postadvertising.com/post/2009/04/1/One-Way-To-Save-Traditional-Media.aspx

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