food magazines


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

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.


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.


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).


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.” 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.