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Who Killed Gourmet Magazine?

M1X00220_9.JPGAdam Roberts, who's normally quite mild-mannered in his guise as the Amateur Gourmet, is annoyed at Christopher Kimball's cranky New York Times op-ed blaming the Internet for the end of Gourmet magazine, and the death of expertise more generally. Roberts does a good job dismantling Kimball's unexamined arguments about the meritocracy: Anyone who thinks the magazine rack is more meritocratic than the blogosphere should think a little bit harder about how competition works in markets.

But Kimball's argument isn't just misguided. It's flatly wrong. There's no reason to believe that Gourmet was killed by the Internet. Rather, it was killed by the recession, and by competition from its sister magazine Bon Appetit. Charles Townsend, CEO of Conde Nast, was perfectly clear about this. "These businesses should be 25 percent net margin businesses,” he said. "We won’t have businesses that don’t make a contribution."

Gourmet was in the red. It had suffered a 46.9% drop in ad revenue and a 50% drop in ad pages as compared to the previous year. Bon Appetit, conversely, saw a 36 percent drop in revenue and a 40 percent drop in ad pages. Add in that Bon Appetit had more subscribers (1.352 million vs. 978,000), was experiencing more growth, and cost much less to produce, and Conde Nast decided to focus on the brand with the most downstream revenue potential, not the one with the most storied history.

That's a shame. But it's not the fault of some blogger somewhere. It's the fault of another print publication and a sagging economy. Blaming the Internet is convenient but untrue. It's the sort of thing that -- dare I say it? -- is a lot easier to get away with in the protected environs of print than the open arena of the Web.

Update: Kimball (sort of) revises and extends his remarks.

By Ezra Klein  |  October 13, 2009; 5:49 PM ET
Categories:  Food , Journalism  
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Comments

I'm normally with you on both food and HCR, but I just don't get this. I think you (and Roberts) are arguing a bit of a straw man here and criticizing Kimball for something he didn't actually write.

BTW, I also think it might have been fair to include Kimball's response to his critics:

http://christopherkimball.wordpress.com/2009/10/09/ship-of-fools/

He is probably paying a price for some language that may have not been the best choice in retrospect, but IMO, this jumping on is way disproportionate to the "crime" -- and goes a bit of a way to supporting his points.

Posted by: bowseat93 | October 13, 2009 7:51 PM | Report abuse

in the sixties and seventies, "gourmet" had a very, very fine writer who created articles about travel and food. her writing was just beautiful, and i enjoyed her writing and images of places and their cuisine, so much.
her name was lillian langseth-christianson, i think.
i dont follow culinary magazines anymore, but years ago, i did.
and i just didnt want the articles about "gourmet" magazine to conclude without a word of admiration for her beautiful writing.
thank you to ms. christianson.

Posted by: jkaren | October 13, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

in the sixties and seventies, "gourmet" had a very, very fine writer who created articles about travel and food. her writing was just beautiful, and i enjoyed her writing and images of places and their cuisine, so much.
her name was lillian langseth-christianson, i think.
i dont follow culinary magazines anymore, but years ago, i did.
and i just didnt want the articles about "gourmet" magazine to conclude without a word of admiration for her beautiful writing.
thank you to ms. christianson.

Posted by: jkaren | October 13, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

Cranky is exactly how to describe Christopher Kimball as I see it watching America's Test Kitchen on PBS and reading Cook's Illustrated. However I keep watching and reading because he is anally good at what he does -- tried and true recipes and exhaustive equipment reviews.

But you're right -- he's wrong about Gourmet. It's the lack of ads that killed the magazine and the competition from the dumbed down Bon Appetit.

Posted by: HokieAnnie | October 13, 2009 7:53 PM | Report abuse

"Anyone who thinks the magazine rack is more meritocratic than the blogosphere should think a little bit harder about how competition works in markets."

Of course this assumes that "meritocracy" means "ranking on accomplishments and talent," rather than "social advantages for people well off enough to buy (er... "earn") degrees from certain famous and expensive schools." In my experience most people actually mean the latter.

Posted by: NS12345 | October 13, 2009 9:26 PM | Report abuse

Personally, I don't think it was Bon Appetite; food magazines have proliferated in recent years, making it more difficult for everyone. I prefer Fine Cooking and The Food Network magazines over Gourmet.

Posted by: huskerag | October 14, 2009 7:34 AM | Report abuse

a final good~bye.
for the sake of posterity, i found an archive with some of the writings of lillian langseth-christenson.
this is a particularly enjoyable one:
http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/1950s/1958/04/christensenviennesememoir
many years ago, when julia child and "gourmet" magazine appeared on the scene in the united states, most american families were eating chicken a la king and meat loaf.
the beautifully written travel memoirs and culinary articles by lillian langseth~christianson in "gourmet" magazine, opened new portals for those of us who only dreamed of what it would be like, visiting cafes and fine restaurants in europe.
it was not so long ago, that we grew up in a generation where even a telephone call to europe had to be scheduled and placed a day in advance, and a western~union telegram was the easiest way to reach someone abroad.
in those days, "gourmet" magazine was the closest thing to having a passport:-)
i remember reading my first "gourmet" magazine on a subway into brooklyn, and an afternoon in vienna, seemed a long way, away, as the subway screeched into crown heights!
good~bye, "gourmet" magazine, and ms. christianson, and thank you.

Posted by: jkaren | October 14, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

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