Sunday, October 11, 2009

Don't Let This Be You

My friend Trey Reasonover posted a great article on Facebook from TechDirt about an editorial in the NY Times from the CEO of Cook's Illustrated blaming the Internet for the demise of Gourmet.

First, it's worth noting that Trey and I became friends via Jesse Brandl. Jesse sent me a really funny blog post from Trey and I always read his stuff with interest because he loves tech and always has a bunch of great ideas. So Trey and I are friends because of the Internet and I benefit from his posts and friendships greatly. We didn't find each other through a magazine subscription or some other old world structured mechanism that charges a toll for me to find people like Trey. This is important because paper magazines are basically toll booths for content. They used to be really profitable because effective toll booths print money. Some toll booths are fleating (like paper delivery) while others the Bay Bridge Toll Booth can't be circumvented.

I understand why the Editor of Cook's Illustrated is bummed out. He doesn't understand how to make money and support his editorial infrastructure without that paper toll charge. He probably looks around and sees that iTunes & Amazon have set up toll booths via the iPhone & Kindle, but he would have to pay a toll (revenue share) himself to take advantage of those. So he resists. Here are some of his comments:

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.

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. Google "broccoli casserole" and make the first recipe you find. I guarantee it will be disappointing. The world needs fewer opinions and more thoughtful expertise -- the kind that comes from real experience, the hard-won blood-on-the-floor kind. I like my reporters, my pilots, my pundits, my doctors, my teachers and my cooking instructors to have graduated from the school of hard knocks.

Toll Booths are hard to erect and must be earned. The world doesn't need, "fewer opinions," it needs more, but they must be organized. Cook's Illustrated & Gourmet, used to organize those opinions but it was easier because they only had to look to a few experts. Those who organize the opinions of the masses and tease out the most valuable will earn themselves a toll in the future. They may have to partner with Amazon, Apple, Netflix, etc and share the bounty, but it will be there for them. Resisting the change and doing nothing won't cut it. The school of "hard knocks" that he is so affectionate about is pounding at the door of these paper magazines. Ignoring the noise will only give people like Trey the time to develop the next great cooking information delivery mechanism and another wonderful franchise/brand, Gourmet or Cook's Illustrated, will be wasted.