The death of Gourmet has prompted plenty of maudlin remembrances. And plenty of suggestions as to why we should mourn it: the food, Ruth Reichl, the jobs, the beauty. One theory to ignore: the internet is ruining smart magazines!
Christopher Kimball, the publisher of Cook's Illustrated, has a eulogy to Gourmet in the NYT that pronounces what you knew, in your very bones, was coming: the internet killed the Conde mags. You bastards.
The shuttering of Gourmet reminds us that in a click-or-die advertising marketplace, one ruled by a million instant pundits, where an anonymous Twitter comment might be seen to pack more resonance and useful content than an article that reflects a lifetime of experience, experts are not created from the top down but from the bottom up. They can no longer be coronated; their voices have to be deemed essential to the lives of their customers. That leaves, I think, little room for the thoughtful, considered editorial with which Gourmet delighted its readers for almost seven decades.
Well. Not quite. The internet loves experts. And it loves thoughtful, considered editorial. If it's presented correctly. Of course, Conde Nast had a famously dismal internet strategy, which couldn't have helped Gourmet a bit. Kimball's solution:
To survive, those of us who believe that inexperience rarely leads to wisdom need to swim against the tide, better define our brands, prove our worth, ask to be paid for what we do, and refuse to climb aboard this ship of fools, the one where everyone has an equal voice.
Perez Hilton notwithstanding, there's no reason why smart things can't thrive on the internet. The democratic aspect of the internet that's so terrifying to the old guard is not one that means that every opinion is equal; it just means that every opinion can be equally heard. The good stuff can still rise to the top. Conde Nast is not currently in a budget crisis because of an imaginary virtual "ship of fools" that smashed up the noble magazine industry like drunk savage hordes rampaging across an enlightened village. Conde Nast's problems stem from the fact that its entire business model was based on a sort of quasi-monopolistic sham sold to advertisers—a model that's now crumbling. (Kimball himself acknowledges how shitty and undemocratic the magazine business used to be in the first half of this piece).
Gourmet may have been a great magazine, but it had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time: Conde Nast, 2009. Don't blame Twittering idiots. Blame Conde Nast.