The Recipe for Multimedia Publishing: 8 Tips from Christopher Kimball
Many television cooking show junkies know Christopher Kimball as the cook with the signature bow-ties and the face of “America’s Test Kitchen” on PBS. However, he is also a true mastermind of integrated multimedia publishing and a guru whose lessons extend further than the kitchen.
At the center of his company, “America’s Test Kitchen” is Cook’s Illustrated (originally Cook’s), a bimonthly cooking magazine founded and edited by Kimball. Kimball founded and ran Cook’s magazine, which was advertising-based from 1980 to 1990, but then sold the magazine to Condé Nast Publications. The magazine soon folded, but in 1993 Kimball repurchased the subscription list and reconfigured his brand. He made the strategic decision to drop the ads from the publication and renamed it with the current title as a paid subscription magazine.
“[Today] we have just over one million subscribers to Cook’s Illustrated and about 265,000 subscribers to Cook’s Country [the sister publication launched in 2005],” he says.
“America’s Test Kitchen” is literally filmed in the test kitchen of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, just outside of Boston, and the show just finished filming its eighth season. He and his crew currently have three Web sites including CooksIllustrated.com, which he says gets about 500,000 unique visitors per month. And, the company also publishes books.
“We sell over 1 million books per year, about 60 percent through sales directly to consumers and the rest through retail,” he says. “We have published over 40 books and currently do about six to eight books per year.”
Kimball offered the following eight tips on effective multimedia publishing, exclusively to Publishing Executive Inbox’s readers.
1. Any multimedia enterprise has to start with a unique editorial premise.
That is, what are you offering that nobody else can provide? This is obvious and sounds rather elementary but is, in fact, key. … You have to stand for something editorially that is unique and of real value to your customer base. In our case, we don’t feel that throwing thousands of recipes at home cooks is that valuable. Recipes are free and abundant. What is valuable is offering access to recipes that really work, that have been tested in our kitchens. That is the promise that makes our publishing business successful.
2. Don’t be seduced by the medium.
By that I mean, let other folks worry about delivery systems, new media ventures and the technology. Publishers ought to be in the content business. When somebody else figures out how to deliver it profitably and the process becomes accepted and affordable, then you can move into that space. It is the content, stupid!
3. Spend most of your time worrying about the content … the rest of it will follow.
If you go out trying to make a quick buck based on marketing alone, you will probably fail.
4. Survey your audience endlessly.
We use e-mail-based survey software (quite cheap, but effective) as well as focus groups that we run in-house (never hire an outside focus group company [as] they will steal you blind) to find out what our customers want. Remember, editors tend to provide content that their peers, not their customers, want. Green Bean Casserole is the most requested recipe in America, but how many food editors in New York City are going to take that request seriously?
5. Hire the best art director you can find.
… Packaging of content is integral to the editorial process and crucial for success. Find an art director [who] is also an editor at heart. I would also hire this talent in-house and make it a key management position. Pay this person ungodly amounts of money.
6. Authenticity in this day and age is everything.
If you really believe in what you are doing and believe in doing it well, that transcends all the usual economic metrics. You can’t fake it.
7. All businesses can benefit from a spokesperson.
But it has to be for real. If there is someone in your organization who embodies the best of what you do, put them on TV, get them on “The Today Show,” and have them do radio. It’s free, and it is powerful. At the same time, hire the best PR person you can find. This can be transformative to your organization.
8. Finally, you can’t fool your customers.
If you don’t love what you do, they won’t love it either. So if getting out of bed in the morning and going to work is an increasingly high hurdle, quit your job and go to culinary school. There is nothing that customers don’t sense about your dedication to the topic at hand. If you are in it strictly for business reasons, they will suss that out immediately and you will pay for it in lower performance. People want to be true believers, to really believe in your brand. If you don’t believe in it, they won’t either.