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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Words muttered over the grave of Gourmet

Conde Nast in the US just announced the closure of four magazines. One of them is Gourmet, which was launched in 1941. The worldwide tribe of foodies is up in arms, blaming the loss on the insensitivity of Conde Nast management with the connivance of consultants from McKinsey. They only interrupt their thundering against these Philistines to say that of course they hadn't read it for some while since it was taken over by some vulgarian. Closures of magazines are invariably greeted by tear-stained tributes from people who stopped reading them some while before, bitter anonymous postings by people who have just lost their jobs and think-pieces from people who haven't a clue about the economics underpinning such businesses, particularly when they're based in the United States.

Jay Rayner in the Guardian refers to the lavish multiple-dollars-per-word way Gourmet was put together but doesn't seem to feel that this was part of what rendered it unsustainable. American magazines, particularly the ones that they habitually refer to as "upscale", are massively risky bets where an annual subscription is effectively given away in order to achieve the "rate-base" that advertisers have been persuaded to pay for. This is a wager that might work out as long as advertising is going up but will be quickly found out in hard times. In really hard times such as we're going through at the moment anything even slightly marginal plunges into the red overnight. Gourmet is said to have seen a 41% decline in advertising in the last year. That's not just a bad year. That's structural.