"We don't pay very much attention to new magazines . . . We don't care. We think Gourmet is the best."
Alice S. Gochman, senior editor, Gourmet
Entering the offices of Gourmet from Manhattan's Third Avenue is a little like entering a time warp. Antiques and quiet abound. The ringing of an unanswered telephone disturbs Alice Gochman, even though it is several rooms away. No one shouts or runs; only a self-confident attitude echos through the office of editor and publisher Earle R. MacAusland and in the pages of the magazine itself.
"It is a formula," Gochman acknowledges, "but a very good formula. We don't look at the others as competition. They look at us, try to copy us and fail miserably. They don't have our readership, people who buy expensive things and tend to travel. The New Yorker is more of our level."
Since its founding in 1941, Gourmet has ruled the narrow world of speciality food magazines. The so-called women's or "shelter" magazines include food in their editorial mix, but few others have been able to capitalize successfully on food.
Now the explosion of leisure-time activity has made the odds look better. Publishers see the "gourmet" home cooking boom as a plum ripe for picking because these new potential subscribers buy a lot of equipment and accessories as well as food and wine products. A specialty food magazine should attract advertising readily, they reason.
Furthermore, a large group of opinion-molders - cooking teachers and writers - have cooled on Gourmet as the food magazine. While Gourmet has never been aimed at professionals, these "semi-professionals" and their followers regard the magazine as irritatingly irrelevant. The feuding is quiet but intense and while the criticism usually is muted, it exists.
Whether Gourmet, "The Magazine of Good Living," chooses to acknowledge the fact or not, in an ambitious new competitor is publishing its first full issue this week and at least three others are already in the field. Food & Wine
Like Gourmet, the International Review of Food & Wine is edited and produced in New York. The editors are Michael and Ariane Batterberry. He's American, she's English. Young and well entrenched in the New York social scene, they have produced several books that collectively indicate their strong desire to be arbiters of taste.
There is a curious phenomenon about food writing in New York. Anything or anyone you bite may bite back. So the Batterberrys, who spent seven years tugging their food magazine to launching position, have been characterized as dilettantes, social climbers and, inevitably, bad cooks. Yet no one has denied their enthusiasm and the International Review's "premiere issue" (a 15-page mini-issue appeared as an insert in Playboy recently) contains a number of innovative concepts clearly intended to break the Gourmet mold.
"We respect Gourmet," said one Batterberry. "The basic difference is we're going to be much livelier. We're going to be controversial. Gourmet focuses so much on travel and assumes its readers have all the time and money in the world. We don't."
"It's beautiful," said the other, "but it's so laundered-looking. They didn't see the coming diversity. Cooking today is a creative activity for men and women. I think we've stolen their thunder." (Nearly 60 percent of the initial subscribers are men. No other food magazine claims even a third of its readership is male.)
Thus the editorial "mix" of the International Review of Food & Wine is the broadest of any food magazine.
Among standing features each month will be One's Company (for single cooks), Diet Menus, Verdict (panel ratings of foods and wines), Wise Buys, and book reviews, gardening (in season) and restaurant evaluations. Major play is given to a cooking lesson that gives three preparations to a food such as ham or lamb, one simple, one advanced and one "very, very elegant."
There will be, Ariane Batterberry says excitedly, GOSSIP, as well as humor ("nobody else has that")and "good writing." Wilfred Sheed, George Plimpton and Nicholas Von Hoffman have bylines in the first issue.
At Gourmet, one man - MacAusland - has dictated both business and editorial policy. At Food & Wine, the Batterberrys are working in tandem with another couple. Robert and Caroline Kenyon.
In 1971, the two couples joined forces. "It was a great meeting of the minds," Caroline Kenyon said. "They had a keen sense of the market and ideas on how to cater to these new interests." But financial backing that guaranteed editorial independence proved difficult to find until Playboy came up with what amounted to a matching grant of about $2.5 million, part of which came in the form of the 15-page teaser insert in Playboy magazine.
The Review is "totally independent," but Playboy does have options, at fixed prices, to buy a "limited partnership" at specified dates in the future.
Circulation projections for the new magazine are 200,000 at launch, 300,000 by the end of next year and 700,000 - or slight ahead of Gourmet's current circulation - in the fifth year. If advertising grows, too, that would mean success. Citing "scientific marketing" techniques used by Bon Appetite, Robert Kenyon feels the magazine might hit 1.5 million by the mid-1980s. Bon Appetite
Bon Appetite currently leads the circulation race in this field. It expects to reach 1 million late this year and already has tripled what the magazine had when it was purchased from the Pillsbury Company three years ago by Cleon (Bud) Knapp.
Knapp had scored a great success with Architectural Digest, a magazine that deals more with interior design than architecture, and was looking for a new challenge. Bon Appetite, at one time a wine and liquor store giveaway, contained a large proportion of wine articles and mundane food copy. Knapp decided to tilt the balance toward food and moved the editorial offices from Kansas City to Los Angeles. Paige Rense, who had done a brilliant job at Architectural Digest, organized an editorial staff.
"I think, says Pat Brown, Bob Appetite's managing editor, "he (Knapp) felt Architectural Digest proved people are interested in a quality kind of product that deals with a way to express themselves personally. Bon Appetite is aimed at a specific part of the home environment for an emerging market that wants to express creativity, warmth and hospitality through food and entertaining. People are very important to us. We feel the general level (of sophistication) has grown and we hope we are speaking to that level reader."
Bon Appetite's subscribers, Brown said, are two-thirds female, are found largely on the East or West coasts, are 35 to 54 and have family incomes of $25,000 or more. "Many are in two-career working households," she added, "so they lack time but are interested in producing something quick to prepare but special. When they have time they want to do something challenging. Thus we stress clarity in our recipes and graphic treatment so they can reproduce our food with ease."
As Bon Appetite has evolved since its move to Los Angeles, the "backbone" of its monthly format has become two or three major food features. A cooking class, with step-by-step photographs, is shot at cooking schools throughout the country. Great Kitchens, Great Cooks presents a kitchen design as well as recipes from the owner. There is a monthly celebrity story (James McArthur and Celeste Holm are examples), and Stop Over (travel and food in one city or country). Among the standing features: Articles on microwave, food processor and natural foods cooking; foods by mail and a reader participation section called Too Busy To Cook.
The magazine has drawn more than a few sniffs of disapproval despite - or perhaps because of - its expanding circulation. The so-called New York food establishment points to the seeming infatuation with entertaining and celebrities as typically Los Angeles and finds the magazine painfully lower-middle-brow. Michael Batterberry, more outspoken than most but representative, calls Bon Appetite "the TV magazine of food. It's a very pleasant, graphically clean version of a magazine you'd find in the supermarket," he said.
Brown denies any lack of sophistication and counters by saving, "We're trying to relate to the way people really live today.
Ironically, the two established magazines least known here, Sphere and Cooking, have editors with the strongest food credentials. Sphere
Camille Stagg, who had a fine reputation as food editor of the Chicago Sun-Times, joined Sphere late last yearwith the same title. At about that time, the magazine began to change its editorial mix dramatically toward food. Like Bon Appetite, it had been created with the financial help of a food company, General Mills. Sphere spread the Betty Crocker image from 1972 to 1975, but the real owner was, and is, Forum Communications of California.
"We weren't subsidized," explained editor Joan Leonard. "We simply paid General Mills a royalty.But the connection made selling ads to other companies difficult, so we separated from them."
The next stage saw food in a mix with fashion and crafts. A new publisher, James Bartlett, ordered a reevaluation and, according to Leonard, decided that food "was where the real dollars were in ad sales. Fashion was extraneous. So Sphere, which publishes 10 instead of 12 times a year, was "repositioned as speciality instead of a shelter magazine" with its first issue of 1978.
Covers now focus solely on food and lead articles on exotic foreign cooking are researched and photographed on location. "Other than recipe quality, visual is number one with us," Leonard explained.
"We concentrate on making gourmet food in the home, travel and entertaining," added managing editor Mary Lou Mellon. "I think of Gourmet as primarily a travel magazine and don't think their recipes are easy to follow.Bon Appetite is primarily food. We combine the two and present readable recipes in one nice package. We're aiming for today's true liberated woman. One who knows she can work or raise a family and is not ashamed to cook and entertain beautifully."
The change in approach has not cost Sphere readers, according to editor Joan Leonard, who put current circulation at between 650,000 and 700,000, almost all of them women. "We're not in competition for big (circulation) numbers," she said, "so it wasn't much of a gamble. Our renewal rate has been so high the feeling was we weren't gambling enough."
Now the goals are to increase advertising revenue and become better known. "We don't have good national news stand distribution," Leonard said. "We haven't had the money for a real promotion effort. But we're growing." Cooking
Nothing could be more simple to promote than the name of the magazine sponsored by Cuisinart, the company that started the food processor band wagon rolling. Cooking, according to editor Barbara Kafka, is about just that.
"It's not about gossip, travel, tableware or how to give a party," she said. "It's for people who want to cook and I'm not terribly concerned" about catering to mass taste.
Kafka is a woman of sharp intelligence who has a solid magazine background, was instrumental in organizing the impressive book "The Cooks' Catalogue" and worked in a key position in launching Windows on the World, the restaurant atop New York's World Trade Center. She and Carl Sondheimer, who runs the Cuisinart firm, organized the magazine and both contribute to it. The first issue appeared in March and was sent to a list of 18,000 subscribers.
"We want to go to 50,000 to 100,000," Kafka said. She foresees sales in cookware stores and housewares sections of department stores, but counts mostly on word-of-mouth to boost subscriptions.
The most unusual aspect of Cooking is that it carries no advertising. ideal? Perhaps, but Kafka views it as a mixed blessing. "We did 32 pages the first issue and 36 the next. We'll probably level out at 44 to 52. That's an enormous amount of text, but without the bulk given by ads people feel cheated." (The cost per issue is $2, compared with 95 cents for Bon Appetite, $1 for Sphere and Gourmet and $1.50 for the International Review of Food & Wine.)
Cooking is very definitely high-brow and serious.The photographs are splendid. So far the magazine is very New York-oriented - James Beard was featured in the first issue - the second is virtually dedicated to the late Helen McCully and the third will contain articles by two New York cooks close to Beard. "We're very eclectic and we're very interested in quality," Kafka said. It's hard to describe what I mean by that without being arrogant. Yet within that there is enormous range for being honest and sincere."
Back at "The Magazine of Good Living," Alice Gochman said earnestly, "We wouldn't publish a recipe that doesn't work. The integrity of Gourmet is the secret of our success. We are unswerved, unsullied by fads. We have very good writing. Everything is hard-roughly researched." Acknowledging that there is less food copy non than in the past, she said, "It is the magazine of good living - in every aspect. Now we write about the sociablity of food and around it you find fine perfumes and fancy cars."
Too much on travel? "You say Gourmet, you say France," she responded . "So you can't have people not traveling."
Readership too old and inqited?"Gourmet is an inheritance, really. People who have read it hand it down. It's a wedding gift. . . We don't try to be all things to all people. There's a dream-book quality of vicarious living which is fine."
Gourmet goes to some lengths to please its family of readers, Gochman indicated. There is a monthly column that prints restaurant recipes the magazine has sought out for readers. "We go to an awful lot of trouble," she said. "We plan weddings and feasts. We prepare recipe indexes. Mr. MacAusland has a feeling of our readers as a family."
The present makeup of the magazine offers a Gourmet Holiday each month, a travel article, an "economy" feature called Gastronomie Sans Argent , and a centerfold of menus, plus Shopping in Europe and reviews of restaurants in New York and California.
Summing up, Gochman said, "I come to Gourmet and it's restful. It's timeless but timely. Mr. MacAusland doesn't want it to be a big mass product. He wants the quality market . . . Whatever we do (to adjust and change) we do for the right reasons. We want most of all to be responsive to our readers.
"Competitors? I don't think they exist."