Print is Dead. Long Live Print: The renaissance of independent food magazines

When Gourmet magazine went under in 2009, publishers everywhere lamented the ultimate decline of the food print magazine. A lack of interested advertisers and the shifting food interests of its readers were cited as Gourmet‘s primary cause of death, but a changing magazine industry indicated that the closure of the magazine was not an isolated incident. For years, experts have been bemoaning the death of print, but like many other media, it’s not dying, it’s just evolving – the vinyl record didn’t keep fans of music from attending live performances, and television didn’t keep viewers from going to the movies, or the theatre. Print isn’t dead, but maybe mainstream, commercial magazines are. The past few years has seen the emergence of dozens of independent magazines, partly born out of a desire for an alternative to the commercial magazines that have reigned over the industry and have been ruled by advertisers. The recent upswing of independent magazine production has partly to do with new technologies that make their production more affordable – the available resources have made it easy for anyone to start a magazine and find an audience. So while big-name magazines, like the ill-fated Gourmet, may be dying out, the little magazines still have some fight in them. This paper will focus on the emergence of alternative independent food magazines, who, against all odds, have been reborn as hip and innovative print-primary publications. These magazines aren’t your mother’s cooking how-to’s; these new-fangled food magazines are packed with spice, creativity, and a little bit of funk.

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David Chang and Peter Meehan set loose upon the world Lucky Peach magazine in 2011. Their first issue, centred on the theme “ramen,” came with an explanation for the magazine’s existence during a time when starting a print magazine seemed like a fool’s errand: “The aim of Lucky Peach is to give a platform to a brand of food writing that began with unorthodox authors like [Anthony] Bourdain, resulting in a publication that appeals to die-hard foodies as well as fans of good writing and art in general.” Meehan was a cookbook writer and food columnist for the New York Times before he became the editorial director of Lucky Peach, and Chang was the James Beard Award winner behind the Momofuku restaurants in New York City. Sensing a gap in the food magazine industry, the two came together to create something that they called a “mélange of travelogue, essays, art, photography, and rants in a full-color, meticulously designed format.” The magazine, which comes out quarterly, is irreverent in tone and is known for printing unconventional articles like “It’s 8 a.m. Somewhere: Morning dispatches from around the globe” alongside over-exposed, almost surreal food photography. The message is clear: This isn’t a formulaic, step-by-step how-to-cook magazine. It’s part aspirational, part humorous, part cultural commentary, all wrapped up in a pretty paper-and-ink package – and it sells well.

Shortly after the launch of the magazine, the Atlantic ran an article about Lucky Peach. The writer, Daniel Fromson, began by saying that he initially resisted liking the magazine, partly due to how heavily branded it was as the child of David Chang, notorious for over-extending the Chang and Momofuku brand. After opening several successful restaurants, appearing on hip HBO programs like Treme, and selling Momofuku-branded food products at exorbitant prices, did Chang really need to start playing editor, too? As it turns out, he did, and it’s a good thing, too. Fromson admits that Lucky Peach is not only good, but “maybe the most original and best new food magazine that will debut [in 2011]” (Fromson). The first issue of the magazine ran a 15-page piece titled “Things Were Eaten,” a back-and-forth ramen-eating commentary between Meehan and Chang, including lines like “This is some next level shit,” and “These noodles are insane.” Lucky Peach also continues to print quirky illustrations and what could only be called “doodles” alongside travelogues and recipes that are more driven by the thought process of eating and cooking than the rigid instructional formats of yore. The unconventional and the fetishistic, it seems, is popular among contemporary foodies: the first issue of Lucky Peach sold out of its first 40,000 copies and its second run of 12,000 (Carr). Chang and Meehan haven’t slowed down since the magazine’s debut, either. In 2015, they published the cookbook Lucky

Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes in the image of the magazine – one of the more memorable ‘recipes’ from the book is a two-page spread of sliced oranges presented as a common dessert option, an inside joke among some Asian families – and in April of this year they will release The Wurst of Lucky Peach: A Treasury of Encased Meat. As the late David Carr of the New York Times aptly said, “Lucky Peach is not only something to behold, it is also something to hold, a reminder of print’s true wingspan.” Its life as a print publication has been vivacious, and while Lucky Peach does have a website with some overlapping content, it lacks much of the character of the print version, including the thematic glue that holds each issue together. Evidently, reading print is still a “niche activity” but it “behooves the industry to reward its true fans with palpable, physical quality” (Carr).

gathercoverIf Lucky Peach is the tattooed drunk uncle of the food publication world, Gather Journal is the avant-garde and impeccably dressed aunt. Based out of Brooklyn, NY, Gather was founded by Michele Outland and Fiorella Valdesolo in 2012 with the idea of creating a print publication that would showcase “Seasonal Recipes and Exceptional Ideas.” Each issue is centred on an abstract theme, which in the past has included “Origins,” “Magic,” “Caravan,” and “Rough Cut.” At roughly 108 pages per issue, Gather includes recipes, essays, and other small snippets of narrative prose nestled among highly styled, full-bleed food photography. The publication reads almost like an academic art book, rather than a food magazine. Props like coloured crystals are piled among cocktail glasses, and some of the photography is so highly stylized it barely resembles anything that could be considered edible. In an interview with Outland, she says that the initial driving factor behind creating Gather was a love of print: “That was a big concern when we were planning this launch. We didn’t want a magazine that would end up in the recycle bin in two weeks” (PaperSpecs). Other food magazines have followed Gather‘s artistic lead, including the UK’s The Gourmand, New York’s White Zinfandel, and Sweden’s Fool. Looking more like books than magazines, all of these food publications were created to last, to be tucked away on book shelves or displayed on coffee tables. The Gourmand, which calls itself a “Food and Culture Journal,” is also published quarterly, combining concepts of contemporary art and food culture. What is significant about both Gather and The Gourmand is the resistance of digital-primary publishing. Both publications have websites that feature some content from the print issues, but their online presence is evidently secondary to the print versions. In an industry where glossy mass-market mags are considering stopping the printers and moving entirely online, it’s brave – and some might say stupid – to start up a new print magazine. Print issues of Gather regularly sell out, indicating that the nay-sayers may be missing something about the lasting appeal of print.

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The success of independent food magazines can be attributed in part to a massive emerging foodie culture – heavy-weight food authority and Condé Nast darling Bon Appetit just released a “Culture” issue, devoted entirely to this phenomenon – but it is also part of a shifting wave of magazine publishing. David Carr describes the print preference as a reaction to what has been happening in the magazine industry: “For years, publishers have stamped out mass-produced glossies sold at deep discounts so that they could build an audience to sell advertising against. That formula has been breaking down; audiences have atomized, ad dollars have dispersed and information has become a widespread commodity” (Carr). Readers are tiring of disposable publications packed full of advertisements for things they don’t want, especially when they can get the same thing online for free. The big mags are dying, and in their wake, the small print indies are emerging, flapping their paper wings. An article published on Contently titled “GOOD Magazine and the Print Pub Renaissance” discusses the ways in which print publications are still wanted and needed. Casey Caplowe, co-founder of GOOD Magazine – a print-primary magazine for the “global citizen” – said that “he and other longtime employees have always had a soft spot for the tactile, distraction-free experience of print.” When GOOD was relaunched as a print publication in 2014, after being briefly phased out to make room for an online social media presence (which more-or-less was a failure), it found almost immediate success (Dillon). Author Ruth Jamieson has also talked about the surprising renaissance of print magazines. In an interview published on Huck magazine’s website, Jamieson, who has compiled a carefully curated list of some of the best recent print mags and published it as Print is Dead. Long Live Print (the namesake of this paper), says “The internet has killed, or is killing, print, but only print of the 10-minutes-of-distraction-before-you-chuck-it-in-the-bin variety.” In order to compete with the internet, print magazines need to offer readers something different. Some of the necessary ingredients, Jamieson says, are “doing something no one else is doing, and offering something digital media can’t offer” and having “great art direction and editorial, a focus on the reader rather than the advertiser, and having a strong, unique idea at the magazine’s core” (King).

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Gourmet may have kicked the bucket, but food magazines are far from dead. Specialized, carefully designed, and thoughtfully-written food magazines are taking the stage, to applause. Mirroring the changing needs of readers of cookbooks – which are becoming more and more about the balance between instruction, art, and story – independent food magazines exist to serve a different purpose than their commercial predecessors. Pages packed with as many recipes as possible alongside advertisements aren’t desirable in a world where Pinterest allows users to curate which recipes they collect. The new foodies are offering up aspirational stories relating to food culture that don’t necessarily serve the instructional home-cooking aspect of food publications, but instead are feeding a voracious appetite for food and for print.

 

Works Cited

11 Indie Food ‘Zines Worth Adding to Your Coffee Table.” Bon Appetit. Web. 27 February 2016.

Carr, David. “Bringing Comfort Food to Print Fans.” The New York Times. Web. 27 February 2016.

Dillon, Baker. “GOOD Magazine and the Print Pub Renaissance.” Contently. Web. 27 February 2016.

Fromson, Daniel. “2011’s Best New Food Magazine: David Chang’s ‘Lucky Peach.’” The Atlantic. Web. 27 February 2016.

In the Design Kitchen with Gather Journal.” PaperSpecs.com. Web. 27 February 2016.

King, Alex. “Are we living through an indie publishing revolution? The best independent magazines.” Huck Magazine. Web. 27 February 2016.

Morris, Linda. “Future Perfect: the rise of independent magazines.” The Sydney Morning Herald. Web. 27 February 2016.

Orr, Gillian. “Indie magazine sales are proving print is not dead.” Independent. Web. 27 February 2016.

One Response to Print is Dead. Long Live Print: The renaissance of independent food magazines

  1. vdly says:

    Daryn, I also wrote on a similar concept in my paper concerning niche magazines. I’m glad you approached it how you did with a good focus on two examples of great independent magazines.

    Well written, and clearly from a point of passion. Daryn goes into great detail about the content, vision, and impact on publishing culture that the Gourmet and Lucky Peach have achieved. It would have been interesting to read more about were other independent food magazines. How are other magazines fairing in this niche? Are there any prospective magazines that are taking off? It’s nice to see Daryn write about the aspirational aspects of the magazines, as this is clearly an important facet as to why these magazines are so attractive. Also, this essay excels at writing with a focus on the readers of these magazines. It drives home the point that there is a clear need for them, and by the end of reading the essay; you get a strong sense that there will always be a need. Good sources; they were well written into the paper and it all flowed very nicely, and Daryn has a great voice in the essay that makes it very readable.

    However, though all the sources contributed well to the essay’s purpose, it would have been nice to see more counter arguments. With a topic such as print magazines going to live on, I feel it would have been beneficial to put some sources in dialogue with each other. For example, are any articles out there that firmly advocate the print’s death? If so, juxtaposing these with Daryn’s sources would be a nice way to engage with the bigger topic at hand in this essay; not just the beautiful content of Lucky Peach and Gourmet. Overall, though, this is a solid essay with a topic that can never be over-argued.

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