Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
October 8, 2009
As I took my modern and elegant bride decades ago and I don’t have any small children to parent, the demise of Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie magazines last week meant little to me.But when I heard that the Cond Nast media empire was also closing down the venerable food magazine Gourmet, I felt more than a twinge of sadness.As a subscriber and a longtime reader (in fact I have been reading the publication since before meeting my modern bride) there will be a void each month. Gourmet was a serious magazine that explored the global spectrum of fine foods with incisive writing, fully tested and vetted recipes, and exquisite photography that made readers both hungry and thirsty. I reference a full-page shot of a glass of Ridge Geyserville Zinfandel in a recent issue that sent me directly to my wine rack.Launched in 1941, the magazine, under current editor Ruth Reichl (just the 4th editor to helm the magazine over its 69-year, 11-month history) sought to remain relevant in recent years as the digital age began to dominate. Their own website was heavily promoted in the pages of the magazine and it features a terrific compendium of lists, recipes, opinions and video clips. Still, it is not the printed page.At a time in which book sales decline as Kindle sales explode, when blogs become more credible and columnists less relevant, when Internet advertising sales soar as those of their print brethren plummet, it seems almost inevitable that niche magazines and newspapers will succumb to the changing environment. Even great ones.It was interesting that news of Gourmet’s death first spread across the Internet and the blogosphere. On Twitter, the editors of other food publications rushed to add their 140-character condolences to the “conversation.” It was an ironic twist to a tale of modern media.Still, it would seem that a publication with a near 70-year legacy and a circulation of more than 900,000 copies would be valuable and viable in some form, even though the current advertising pages as reported by Cond Nast dropped an astounding 50 percent over the previous year.Me, I blame the consultants as much as anyone. McKinsey & Company had been retained by Cond Nast to conduct a three-month review on how to stem the fast flow of red ink that has gripped the company in the past few years. The double whammy of an already shrinking print advertising market coupled with the recession has sent the previously high-flying company into a tailspin.Rather than suggest ways to increase revenue (that’s what I’d like to hear from my, no doubt, highly paid consultants), McKinsey instead suggested shuttering the four titles and an across-the-board cost cut of 25 percent at the surviving publications. Seems like pretty easy advice to give during the course of an initial lunch meeting rather than at the end of a long and expensive review.In any event, it is a sign of the times. Gourmet’s last gasp will be the November issue. Thanksgiving, everyone? Its website will be folded into the epicurious.com site in the near future and subscribers to the magazine will be flipped to Bon Apptit, a fine publication in its own right, but one that certainly lacks the gravitas and panache that Gourmet brought to the table.So what does all of this have to do with wine, you ask? Well, if you love wine then the chances are you almost certainly love food. And it was the passion of Gourmet to celebrate the best of food and, more than occasionally, drink. The other food titles, Bon Apptit, Saveur, and in particular, Food & Wine, all do a good job of covering the wine as well. But in this world of ever-increasing homogenization, commercialization and centralization of products, the loss of a voice that valued quality is a loss for us all. A toast to you, Gourmet.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.