Gourmet closure: does this sound the death knell for special interest magazines?

The news that Conde Nast is to close its specialist food magazine Gourmet is now official, after months of speculation that the title might be cut as part of the publishing house’s streamlining.

As a freelance journalist trying to carve a niche out for myself in food writing, the news has been (if you’ll pardon my pun) rather hard to swallow.

Of course I know that media, the way we consume media, and the way the media is funded is changing – and the internet revolution, the foodie blogosphere and twitter explosion are fast-usurping more traditional channels like print – but it still makes me sad.

I’m not alone, if the response on Twitter is anything to go by.

What hope is there for aspiring food journalists to ever make a living (or even a bit of their living) writing about our specialist subject if even the most famous of quality food publications, which has been going for 70 years is going to close?

We all know that steep drops in traditional forms of advertising forced the mag (like every other anorexic print publication around) to cut pages because of the shift from advertising to targeted online marketing, but what about the readers and writers?

We still exist – and now we’re left with a hole to fill. While I’m a fan of the online food content boom (I have a food blog myself) and I love its speed, relevance and interactivity, I still strongly believe that online content can’t fully replace magazines like Gourmet.

It was, as Jay Rayner says in his Guardian post about its closure: ‘The glossiest, the shiniest, the most indulgent’. 

The end of Gourmet is indicative of the general move toward free online content rather than investment in quality writing, and high spec, niche publications. Tim Hayward, Guardian columnist and food writer agrees, describing the move of the publishing house as ‘baffling’.

“Does it really mean that intelligent special interest reading isn’t valuable? If they can’t tap into market with a serious disposable income then what hope is there?” he asks.

Hayward, who is starting a printed food publication, http://www.fireandknives.com/,  for exactly the readers and writers abandoned by Gourmet’s closure, highlights the gap in the market left by its passing. “It’s about the medium as much as the writing, about having the object there in front of you. Sitting down at the coffee table with it was slightly like pornography and you can’t claim that that can be replaced by online for that audience.

“The reason I’m starting Fire and Knives is because no one was talking to that group over here. Now that’s been corked – you’ve got to wonder what it’s going to mean for everyone else. With Fire and Knives I’m taking advertising out of the equation, which means it’s much easier to set up.

“We’ll still have to make money eventually – but it’s just figuring out where from. We’ll probably end up having to go down a sponsorship route.”

So does Gourmet’s closure really mark the end of an era for special interest reading?

As Hayward points out, it’s the structure of the traditional magazine, with its expensive advertising and sales departments that is dying, rather than the readers and writers and hunger for quality content.

But how can we get around that? Will new models emerge for print publications or is the future typing  ‘luxurious chocolate cake’ into Google Images whenever we want our foodie fix?

Rosie Birkett is a freelance journalist specialising in food, travel and lifestyle writing.

12 thoughts on “Gourmet closure: does this sound the death knell for special interest magazines?

  1. Martin Cloake

    Beware of drawing the general from the specific. It’s very sad about the closure, and I agree with much of what’s said here, 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.

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  3. Rosie Birkett

    @Joanne Mallon: Thanks for your comment. Tim Hayward is transparent about his paying policy on the website, which is linked to. He does plan to eventually pay writers from a tronc, if the magazine is able to make any profit, which looks unlikely at first, as it does not have advertising space for sale.

  4. Joanne Mallon

    Thanks for your reply Rosie. I feel that since this is a site for journalists, it would have been relevant to point that out in the original piece. I like the sound of this “tronc” thing though – think I will offer to pay my electricity bill with one of those.

    I guess if the “new models” for publishing involve writers working for free, that’s a whole other issue in itself. There’s an interesting article here which explores this, and the viability (or not) of writing as a career:

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  9. Mark Taylor

    I wish Tim all the best with Fire and Knives. I launched a specialist printed food magazine called Fork – http://www.forkmagazine.com – in 2007 and it is still going strong, with the new issue out next month. It can be done and the fact that we ‘break’ new talent and tend not to feature overexposed celebrity chefs has been the point of difference as far as our readers and subscribers are concerned.

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