Friday, October 3, 2008

A New Helping of Food Magazines

A New Helping of Food Magazines

Publishers Crowd Kitchen in a Tough Ad Climate, Relying on Big Appetite for Recipes

A new batch of magazines is about to test America's appetite for more food publications.

In recent years, an increase in the number of home chefs -- or at least people armed with gleaming All-Clad pots and good intentions -- has prompted a flurry of magazines and Web sites devoted to cooking, recipe swapping and epicurean lifestyles. There will be 336 such magazines published this year, nearly a third more than in 2003, according to the National Directory of Magazines. Many of those titles have shown brisk circulation growth.

Now, the category is about to get even more crowded. In its first foray into food, Hearst Corp. recently started the Delish Web site in partnership with Microsoft Corp., and next month, Hearst will launch a test of the Food Network Magazine. Rodale's Prevention magazine is adding a new brand called Cook!, and Hoffman Media, publisher of Southern Lady, will roll out a magazine tied to TV cooking personality Sandra Lee.

In addition to lots of rivals, the new magazines will be up against a gloomy ad market. In the first half of the year, magazine ad pages fell 7.4% from a year earlier, according to the Publishers Information Bureau. Stalwarts in the food category haven't been spared: At Condé Nast Publications' Gourmet, ad pages fell 18.5% in the first half. Time Inc.'s Cooking Light and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia's Everyday Food were off about 14% each.

U.S. ad forecasts for this year have already been lowered several times. And that was before the current crisis on Wall Street, which many economists predict will have a profound effect on corporate and consumer spending.

Many publishers believe that as long as a new title has a distinctive point of view, there is enough consumer interest and ad dollars to go around. But not everyone is so sanguine.

"There is a lot of food content available, and there may not be enough magazine advertising support for all," says Robin Steinberg, director of print investment for MediaVest, a media-buying firm owned by Publicis Groupe.

Though advertising from food-related companies has held steady, the food magazines aren't necessarily benefiting. The travel industry, which has been hurt by the cooling economy, is Gourmet's top advertiser. And the housing slump is hurting Cooking Light, which has 100 fewer advertising pages this year for paint, building materials and other housing-related items, according to publisher Chris Allen.

While the ad market has been hurting, food magazines have been buoyed by other factors. Tighter budgets are encouraging more people to cook and entertain at home, feeding demand for recipes and advice. Everyday Food's newsstand sales rose 8.9% in the first half of the year, while sales of Everyday with Rachael Ray gained 6.2%, and Gourmet was up 3.5%, even as overall newsstand sales for consumer magazines fell 6.3%, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Consumer interest in food information on the Web also has been holding steady. Overall U.S. traffic to food sites grew to 42.9 million unique visitors in August, up 6% from a year earlier, according to comScore. Sites with interactive and community features -- such as those allowing consumers to create their own digital recipe boxes or find a dish that uses ingredients already in their pantries -- are growing at a faster clip.

To increase their odds of success, some of the new cooking-related titles are linking up with an already successful brand: the Food Network. Food Network Magazine, the new publication from the Scripps Networks Interactive cable channel and Hearst, plays on the chef-as-celebrity theme that has served the cable channel well. The line "Cook Like a Star," graces the cover of the first issue.

Hoffman Media, which already has a hit with Cooking With Paula Deen, the Food Network chef known for her liberal use of butter, hopes for a repeat with another TV personality, Sandra Lee, whose Semi-Homemade magazine is slated to launch early next year. (Cooking With Paula Deen increased its ad pages 31% in the first half.

In light of the tough economic climate, some publishers are hedging their bets. Prevention, a magazine about fitness and other healthy pursuits, is introducing Cook as an insert in the magazine and as an arm of its Web site and book-publishing business. Hearst also is proceeding carefully. It has committed to just two issues of Food Network Magazine.

Write to Shira Ovide at and Emily Steel at