Last night Condé Nast released the Gourmet Live iPad app on the iTunes Store as a revival of the Gourmet brand into the brave new digital world after shutting down the magazine last October. The app — a free download, but exclusively on the iPad — offers new content (articles, recipes, original video, photography) and pulls from the deep archives of Gourmet magazine.
The press release calls it a "digital content experience" that uses social networking and "innovative gaming tools." After getting a preview of it yesterday at Condé Nast’s headquarters, we'd describe it as a well-intentioned, if at times troubling, attempt at a digital magazine.
Gourmet magazine under editor Ruth Reichl was renown for its high-quality, in-depth writing and well-tested recipes. Which was expensive to produce! Gourmet Live is a different beast: There is no editor. There is, however, what's being called a project "collective" that includes a "content producer." It's certainly an original, guerrilla-style approach to come out of the bowels of the media giant Conde Nast, but still, it gives us pause.
Gourmet Live is a mix of old and new. It pairs content from the archives and newly-commissioned exclusive stories from freelancers and other web properties. The intention is for there to be updates on a weekly basis.
On the initial release, the app includes fall cocktail recipes from mixologist Elayne Duke, an interview with actress Julianne Moore, a piece by British novelist and non-fiction writer Geoff Nicholson, a story "Obama’s Impact on The Washington Food Scene" by Kate Nerenberg, a writeup of the Italian food mecca Eataly by Amanda Kludt (editor, Eater NY), and a story on tailgating by Adam Kuban (managing editor, Serious Eats). Gourmet Live has entered into content-sharing arrangements with Serious Eats and Eater. (Don't worry, our judgment will not be clouded here, so shut up.) Conde Nast properties Concierge.com and Epicurious were also named.
Sharing and "Gaming Tools"
Connecting to a Facebook or Twitter account is necessary for key features, including favoriting articles or recipes and viewing unlocked content (or "rewards"). A reward is access to new collections of content (recipes, or articles) — when first reading specific content, a popup will appear to inform you that you've "earned" a new collection, accessible through a separate "Rewards Screen." It encourages exploration and turns the acquisition of content into a game, which is actually sort of interesting, original concept, if executed oddly.
The act of earning rewards can be automatically shared on Facebook or Twitter — an option that can be disabled, and you really should, unless you intend on spamming the hell out of your friends like so:
Links direct your friends and followers to live.gourmet.com, which we assume is a version one "get-the-word-out" type of situation.
Such announcements may amount to social currency, but in a world that is a link economy, where the sharing of links is a furious enterprise, Gourmet Live falls flat. There's no way to point to anything: Want to share a recipe with your mom? Nope, you can't. Liked an article and wanted to get it out to your friends? Sorry, tough. The app is analogous to a print magazine but with no web version.
We were assured that such a limit would be resolved somehow, possibly with links to excerpts of articles online, but for the time being, all the content exists solely in-app walled garden.
Monetization includes possible advertising and paid upgrades "based on community feedback." But for the time being the app is free and devoid of any advertising. Which makes us worry that if it isn't immediately successful, Conde Nast will pull the plug. They killed Gourmet, after all.
Translating a magazine into a tablet format is a totally new and undefined paradigm. Sports Illustrated and Wired are both giving it a shot, and they're wildly different, and the creators of Gourmet Live deserve credit for trying something pretty radical. Perhaps not having an actual magazine to translate will give them the edge.
Gourmet Live is truly lovely and well-designed, and the developers view this as an ongoing, iterative project that will evolve with user feedback. There's a lot of potential here, and with a few measured tweaks, and a strong, focused editorial voice, it could become something great.
We're not entirely sold on attaching the Gourmet brand to what amounts to a just-out-of-beta tablet-based-blog-slash-magazine-with-archival-recipes-app, but we have to recognize that this a bold, legitimate stab at the future. Hell, Bon App doesn't even have a basic iPhone app out yet, and we're getting close to 2011.
Video: Gourmet Live Promo Video