Magazines in the Digital Age—Bon Appetit and Media

 

Over the last decade print magazines have fallen out of favour with readers, and the resultant decline in advertising revenue put the final nails in the coffins of many print-based publications. The dominance of print magazines has been eroded by the rise of digital media like Facebook, Google, and Instagram (Ember & Grynbaum, 2017). As a result, many publications have devised strategies to stay afloat in the digital age. Focusing in on food magazines, and Bon Appétit (BA) in particular, I will demonstrate one strategy through which publications can thrive in the ever evolving media landscape.

The question of the long-term survival of the food magazine industry began to rise in 2009 upon the surprise dismantling of Gourmet magazine after its 70 yearlong legacy. Even more questions arose when Condé Nast (Gourmet and BA’s parent company) decided to keep the only slightly more profitable BA over the beloved and well established Gourmet (Severson, 2009). In the following years BA could have easily been dissolved like Gourmet, or turned into a digital-only format like other Condé Nast publications such as Teen Vogue and Self. Instead, BA adopted another strategy, and pursued a multi-media model that has proven to not only turn it into a more cutting edge and profitable business, but a more diverse and a stronger brand as well.

In the following I will argue that by diversifying itself through the use of digital media BA has been able to keep its print magazine alive. First I will look into the revamping of the magazine itself. I will then examine the impact of BA’s diverse digital platforms. Finally, I examine the fundamental role digital media plays in BA’s revenue. While there are those who simply claim that mainstream commercial print magazines are dead (such as darynw, 2016), the success of BA suggests that consumer demands and tastes evolve in a reciprocal relationship with the constant transformation of digital and print media. Magazines like BA have responded to consumer taste by utilizing technology to their advantage, while others who have not kept up have folded (Johnson, 2017). After the dismantling of Gourmet, BA took necessary measures to maintain its competitive edge in a digital arena.

Rebrand

The first step BA took in their strategy was an overall rebranding of the print magazine. In September 2010 the magazine  relocated its headquarters from Los Angeles to New York, along with a new editor in chief, as part of their plan to ensure the magazine’s success and position it to grow in different mediums (Johnson, 2017). The next year they re-launched the magazine, accompanied with a new website, which was designed to attract new readers with content that could not be found other places, while simultaneously maintaining the interest of the one and a half million readers they already had (Johnson, 2017). At the same time, a drastic but discrete set-up to propel the magazine into the digital age was underway with many of the readers unaware it was even happening.

Diverse Digital Media

Bon Appétit uses digital media in their strategy as a tool to connect with and build new audiences, and to diversify the brand beyond the print magazine. While print is now no longer their core content, it is far from dead, and continues to play a key role in their brand identity (Johnson, 2017). The strategy of keeping the print model alive while also exploring digital media was mutually reinforcing for both mediums. As the editor in chief Adam Raporport has indicated, it is no longer a magazine, but a brand which spans a magazine, a website, a YouTube channel, most social media, and a podcast (Johnson, 2017). All of these diverse mediums fulfil what cannot be met by print media alone, and allows for diversity in both content and outreach. “You want to make sure the brand is consistent across all platforms, but within each of those platforms you tailor your content to its demands”, says Raporport (Barr, 2016). From 2011-2015 readers of digital magazines went up from 3.3 million to 16 million (Johnston, 2017). As technology developed, people developed a taste for different forms of access to information including immediate access, access on the go, and daily content, and magazines alone could not keep up. For BA this meant creating content for different audiences. The print magazine tends to attract an older and higher economic-status crowd while the website appeals largely to millennial females, and an entirely different demographic are drawn to the videos (Patterson, 2017).

An important aspect of BAs strategy was to offer original content across each of medium, rather than the same content on different platforms. This enabled BA to play to the strengths of each form of media, and its main demographic. While not all print media transitions well into a digital format, there is often a recycling of print media where larger editorials are sliced down to make them more internet friendly (Patterson, 2017). Some content can be presented in different ways as each platform has a slightly different audience. The approach BA took was to create different styles of content for all of their channels, most of which is free to access. The website is updated daily with new and original content, the Instagram has daily videos, interviews, and tips, and each paper issue received through subscription comes along with a free e-version (something Conde Nast does with their other publications like The New Yorker).

 

 

BA’s online media content continues to grow. It now not only has its own Instagram, but two other digital sub-divisions which offer free content—Healthyish (geared towards the Instagram preoccupied health minded millennial females), and Basically (a ‘Martha Stewart light’ for 30-somethings)—each of which has its own Instagram, website, and special edition of the magazine. Since 2014 the magazine has also had a Foodcast (podcast) which is now at nearly 200 episodes (Patterson, 2017). While it is not a large source of revenue for the brand, it helps provide brand recognition (Johnson, 2017) and reach an entirely new segment of the population.

 

 

Revenue Through Video

For Conde Nast, BA video streams are fundamental to the brand’s success and revenue. Where print advertising used to be pivotal to the magazines existence, video advertising has taken hold. In the last 2 years the BA YouTube channel has grown by 2.5 million average viewers with videos making up a quarter of Conde Nast’s lifestyle magazines revenue (including Architectural Digest, Epicurious, Conde Nast Traveller, and the digital only Self) (Safonova, 2018). They estimate this will soon make up half of their revenue (Safonova, 2018). With a significant amount of the company’s advertising devoted to video, it makes sense that most of their revenue comes from advertising and sponsorships, with most revenue coming from advertising that plays before the video airs (Safonova, 2018). BA’s success with their video streams can be attributed to their unique style. Unlike the market of online videos, which is saturated with overhead shots and a lack of recognizable personalities, BA’s videos feature variety of hosts, each with their own theme, such as: Claire Saffitz, who makes ‘gourmet’ versions of mass produced ‘junk’ food; Brad Leone, who’s show is themed on fermentation; and, a show that simply depicts kids trying new foods. These shows in themselves have gathered a cult following where, unlike the videos on Facebook which typically hold one’s attention for no more than 8 seconds, audiences (half of which are under 34) watch these videos on Youtube for an average of 5 minutes (Safonova, 2018). In the competitive world of internet advertising, which is geared towards a shorter attention span, this is almost unheard of.

The traditional model of magazine publication generated income from print advertising, where BA has capitalized on digital media and kept up with the changing times. Where other magazines have dissolved with a lack of advertising income, the use of multi-media channels have strengthened the BA brand and helped grown new audiences and attach different forms of advertising. The diversification of media has brought in revenue which has otherwise been untapped by magazines and helped support the brand and ensure the print version of the magazine, which is key in the brand’s identity, survives into the 21st century.

 

 

Bibliography

darynw. “Print is Dead. Long Live Print: The renaissance of independent food magazines”. March 15, 2016. https://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2016/03/print-is-dead-long-live-print-the-renaissance-of-independent-food-magazines. Accessed December 2, 2018

Ember, Sydney and Grynbaum, Micheal. “The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines”. The New York Times. September 23, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/23/business/media/the-not-so-glossy-future-of-magazines.html. Accessed December 2, 2018

Johnson, Leah. “Hungry for More? An Analysis of Bon Appétit’s Digital Brand Extension Strategies and their Potential Uses and Gratifications”. May 3, 2017. https://vtechworks.lib.vt.edu/bitstream/handle/10919/78214/Johnson_LM_T_2017.pdf?sequence=1 . Accessed December 2, 2018.

Patterson, Jessica. “How Conde Nast’s Bon Appetite Approaches Content Strategy”. Fipp. April 6, 2017. https://www.fipp.com/news/features/how-conde-nast-bon-appetit-approaches-content-strategy. Accessed December 2, 2018

Safonova, Valeriya. “What the ‘Pivot Video’ Looks Like at Conde Nast”. The New York Times. April 4, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/04/style/conde-nast-bon-appetit-food-video.html. Accessed December 2, 2018

Severson, Kim. “Closing the Book on Gourmet”. The New York Times. October 6, 2009. https://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/07/dining/07gourm.html. Accessed December 2, 2018

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