Monday Morning Quarterbacking on the Closing of Gourmet

Last Updated Oct 13, 2009 1:43 PM EDT

Now that the dust has settled on Condé Nast's decision to shutter Gourmet, there was plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking about it yesterday, when media reporters often weigh in on the events of the week gone by; here's the skinny: S.I. Newhouse, who owns Condé Nast, doesn't give a rat's ass about digital. And, by the way, swapping Mercedes limos for Metrocards, and firing about half of the magazine's employees awhile ago might have been a good idea.

OK, maybe Condé Nast shouldn't have needed McKinsey & Co. to tell it that. But what is perhaps most disturbing about the decision to close Gourmet is that even though it certainly suffered from its own excesses -- one observer, Steve Blacker of MediabizBloggers, tallied the magazine's staff as being twice as big as Saveur, another high-end foodie title -- it really is just emblematic of the problems of an entire major publisher. True, you can't get around the fact that Gourmet's pages dropped by 43 percent through October of this year or that it was smaller than its less illustrious sister pub, Bon Appetit. But was that the whole problem? Probably not. There's something systemic here as well.

As some of the Monday morning quarterbacks emphasize, Condé Nast's near ignoring of digital didn't do Gourmet any favors. As long as the ad pages were robust -- or so the story goes -- Newhouse was a happy guy, and the company's at times awkward creation of digital brands that stood completely apart from the print ones certainly is evidence of the company's arms-length attitude toward the Web. Nor could Newhouse allegedly have cared about trimming all the rest of the perks that come from working for a company that is a virtual shrine to the printed page. But the problem isn't just Gourmet's. If Condé Nast, as a company, had paid attention to the world around it -- which, strangely, its magazines purport to do -- it might have been able to save Gourmet, by making the entire organization not only more digitally-focused but leaner than it has been in the past. And certainly not waiting until about a year into an ad recession to make these vital changes. Instead, it waited until the cancer had gone too far, and had to cut off an entire limb that might have proved useful some day.

That's the thing about Gourmet. It has decades of brand equity that seem worth saving, even during a dire time like this. (Modern Bride, Elegant Bride and Cookie, all of which were also folded last week, not so much.) In fact, my bet is that at some point, someone will resuscitate Gourmet -- far better to bring back a title with some lingering allure -- no pun intended, than start a new one. In the meantime, though, this still feels to me like a magazine closure that didn't have to happen.

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