digital content


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.


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.




darynw. “Print is Dead. Long Live Print: The renaissance of independent food magazines”. March 15, 2016. Accessed December 2, 2018

Ember, Sydney and Grynbaum, Micheal. “The Not-So-Glossy Future of Magazines”. The New York Times. September 23, 2017. 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. . Accessed December 2, 2018.

Patterson, Jessica. “How Conde Nast’s Bon Appetite Approaches Content Strategy”. Fipp. April 6, 2017. Accessed December 2, 2018

Safonova, Valeriya. “What the ‘Pivot Video’ Looks Like at Conde Nast”. The New York Times. April 4, 2018. Accessed December 2, 2018

Severson, Kim. “Closing the Book on Gourmet”. The New York Times. October 6, 2009. Accessed December 2, 2018

I bought it, own it! Once I purchase a product it is mine and it is my fundamental right to do whatever I want with it. If I want to lend it to a friend or sell it secondhand, I may. This is the way things have logically worked for a long time and is, frankly, common sense. Since the rise of the digital era however, this common sense is being challenged. We pay real money for products purchased online, so we feel that we have this fundamental right to later resell our used copies. Unfortunately for us consumers, it isn’t that easy. The laws around copyright licensing in the case of digital files are ambiguous at best. Back in 2013 Amazon received a patent allowing them to resell digital content. This news had many people excited to finally be able to exercise their rights to sell their used music, videos, apps, and ebooks, but it also had many people (for example, almost everyone who has ever created and sold digital content) up in arms. Since then, there has not been much news concerning what Amazon has been doing with this patent, and the answer of whether or not a marketplace of secondhand digital content is on the horizon remains up in the air. While such a marketplace seems like the answer to all our problems as consumers, as publishers we have plenty of reasons to be extremely wary. There are a number of issues that arise for creators of digital content when the concept of “secondhand” is added to the table. First of all, to transfer files, a copy of all those 1s and 0s is transferred from one computer to the next (keyword: “copy”) which is a little scary when it comes to selling copyrighted material. Secondly, digital files do not degrade in the same way that physical items do. And thirdly, if everyone can buy used digital content cheaply online, who is going to buy the more expensive “first copy” directly from the creator? These problems have no solutions yet, and until they do, publishers need to be cognizant of what is being done with their content.

In order to dive into the topic of “secondhand” ebooks we must first discuss the legal concepts surrounding “exhaustion.” While Canada itself does not yet have clearly-defined, legal documentation outlining this concept, the United States has the “First Sale Doctrine” that discusses exhaustion. The First Sale Doctrine revolves around this idea of “I bought it, I own it” and the owner of a legally-purchased product has the right to do whatever he or she wants with it. Put in another way, the rights to a product (or at least the enforceability of these rights) are “exhausted” after its first sale. In the case of intellectual property, this is a common and well-known exception to copyright and trademark laws as the notion allows for copyrighted and trademarked products to be used, as the owner sees fit, without a license from the copyright holder. It is this doctrine that allows us to sell our clothes, CDs, books, and other items to another person after we ourselves have used them.

The First Sale Doctrine and the concept of exhaustion have many grey areas, and as you may have guessed, they have a hard time fitting digital products under their umbrella. Because files can be reproduced ad infinitum, producers of electronic content license their products, protecting them from infinite copies. This is why, for example, a library can only lend an ebook a finite number of times, or you are only free to install software on a set number of devices, even though you legally purchased it.

Licensing also covers how ebooks are sold and bought. When I buy an ebook, the ebook seller does not transfer complete ownership to me. Instead, he licenses the ebook to me under certain terms and conditions (you know, those terms and conditions outlined in that huge document of legalese you always blow past in a hurry to tick the “I have read and agreed” box). In this way, I do not own the ebook in the same way that I would if I were to have purchased the physical copy of the book. Theoretically, if I were to “resell” this ebook, the ebook seller would therefore be transferring the license currently assigned to me to another person.

Now that we understand how ebooks might be able to fit into a used market, let’s discuss whether or not they should. As mentioned above, digital content is transferred by means of copies. This raises the issue of whether or not a sold file will actually be removed from the first owner’s device. It is one thing for Amazon to delete a file from a person’s Kindle, but there are other ways of storing files, for example, a person may have stored their digital files on an external drive, which is impossible for a third party to clear unless plugged in. A company may have to perform a full scan of the original file owner’s computer in order to be sure that the file has been removed completely: a task that is appealing to neither company (as this could prove to be extremely expensive) nor consumer (whose privacy would be compromised). If the original file has not been completely removed from a person’s computer after he has resold it, there is nothing stopping him from reselling that same file again and again.

The second issue with reselling digital content concerns degradation. Physical items wear down over time, which is why a used item can and should be sold for less than if it were new. This does not apply to digital files; they are always in perfect condition. With a secondhand ebook you can be sure that you will not come across notes in the margins or torn-out pages the way you might with a physical copy of a secondhand book. Deterioration is what keeps the secondhand economy intact. When you sell your secondhand items, you know they are of lower quality, so you are more comfortable asking a lower price. If all secondhand items were perfect (which is the case with digital files) the whole system would fall apart. This leads directly into the third problem of reselling used digital content: price.

“Because ebooks don’t deteriorate, there is no incentive for the buyer to seek out a new ebook, and especially not when they will likely be able get the secondhand ebook at a discount,” says Forbes contributor Suw Charman-Anderson. “This means that secondhand ebooks would be very likely to cannibalise sales of new ebooks, and probably to a greater extent than piracy because it will be legal, easy and entirely without emotional repercussion” (2013). If anyone is able to get a perfect copy of an ebook at a secondhand price, no one would choose to buy the “new” ebook directly from the publisher. Publishers would be forced to drop their ebook prices, which would in turn lower ebook resale prices, and the cycle would continue until all ebooks cost only a penny. This sounds great for consumers, but not so great for the content creators, and if the system rubs enough content creators the wrong way, soon the consumers will be left with nothing to consume. This “one-penny problem,” as The New York Times technology columnist David Pogue (2013) calls it, will eventually cause publishers and authors to withdraw their content from the ebook market altogether. For many authors and publishers, ebooks contribute a great deal to overall profit (in many self-publishers’ cases, ebooks make up their entire profit) so pulling away from this market will benefit no one. Judging by their past capabilities of domination, if Amazon decides to act on their 2013 patent, they will have a monopoly on the used ebook market. Since publishers depend heavily on sales through Amazon they will be between a rock and a hard place. Withdrawing from ebook resales will not be possible without withdrawing from Amazon. Ebooks will become a liability: prices will only go lower and lower at the same time as more and more sales will be lost to secondhand sellers.

Even though an Amazon Ebook Resale Extravaganza has not yet occurred, there are a number of other websites aiming to achieve this goal. Netherlands-based Tom Kabinet is an emarketplace that allows its users to sell their ebooks for credits with which they can buy more ebooks from the site. The site does recompense authors for every ebook sold, but the remuneration is only €0.50. Furthermore, it is unclear exactly what is to be done with the original copy after selling, as Tom Kabinet’s FAQ reads “…wis je jouw eigen kopie van het e-book van je devices zoals een laptop, een tablet of een e-reader” (…you erase your own copy of the e-book from your devices such as a laptop, a tablet or an e-reader). Leaving it up to the user to delete their own copies seems like an incredibly rose-tinted attitude and it seems unlikely that it will have the desired effect. All in all, Tom Kabinet seems like a publisher’s nightmare, and yet they have been legally allowed to continue operating. When several publishers filed a lawsuit against Tom Kabinet and requested a preliminary injunction, they were denied, and “the Amsterdam Court concluded that selling used eBooks is a legal grey area and not by definition illegal in Europe” (Van der Sar 2014). Tom Kabinet was allowed to continue operations and, because of this publicity, it has even seen an upsurge in its visitor count.

A new market for digital content is imminent. Everyone would love to believe that this market will be a boon to society, but without acknowledgement of the issues involved and a comprehensive game plan in place a secondhand ebook marketplace will hurt publishers in ways that will end up hurting consumers in the long run as well. By all means, embrace emerging opportunities, but until existing problems are resolved, tread carefully in the ebook world.

Works CIted:

Charman-Anderson, Suw. “Amazon Eyes Secondhand Ebook Market.” Forbes. February 8, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Court of Justice of the European Union. “An author of software cannot oppose the resale of his ‘used’ licences allowing the use of his programs downloaded from the internet.” press release no. 94/12. July 2, 2012.

Crowne, Emir. “Anything but tired: the doctrine of exhaustion in Canada” Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice, Volume 10, Issue 11, 1 November 2015, Pages 801–802. OUP Academic. October 20, 2015.

“First-sale doctrine.” Wikipedia. November 25, 2017. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Hoffelder, Nate. “Used eBooks 101: How Amazon Can Legally Resell eBooks.” The Digital Reader. February 21, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Kozlowski, Michael. “Amazon is Secretly Developing a Used e-Book Marketplace.” Good E-Reader. February 24, 2016. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Pogue, David. “Reselling E-Books and the One-Penny Problem.” The New York Times. March 14, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2017.

“Reselling eBooks.” BookScouter. June 15, 2016. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Ringewald, Erich. Secondary market for digital objects. US Patent 8,364,595, filed May 5, 2009, and issued January 29, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Streitfeld, David. “Revolution in Resale of Digital Books and Music.” The New York Times. March 07, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Tarantino, Bob. “First Sale Doctrine and Canadian Law.” Entertainment & Media Law Signal. April 14, 2010. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Tom Kabinet. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Van der Sar, Ernesto. “Online Store Can Sell ‘Used’ Ebooks, Court Rules” TorrentFreak. July 23, 2014. Accessed November 26, 2017.

Van der Sar, Ernesto. “Record Labels: Used MP3s Too Good and Convenient to Resell.” TorrentFreak. April 22, 2014. Accessed November 26, 2017.