Launching a print magazine in the year 2021 sounds like a totally out-there idea. But Delish's new quarterly magazine has proven to be quite the hit, driving thousands of subscriptions in its first week in the world. It's all part of parent company Hearst Magazines' expanded monetization strategy focused on subscriptions for highly engaged, passionate audiences.
The Delish brand has been Editor-In-Chief Jo Saltz's baby for six years now, and she and the team have made it one of the go-to food hubs on the Internet. "We made the brand as big as we could," Saltz said on a recent Zoom interview.
Inclusivity is the driving mission behind the brand -- Saltz doesn't much jibe with old-school demographic labels, those that depend on age or gender. To her, the more useful descriptors for Delish's audience involve what readers love: food and bringing people together around food. She wanted a big tent that spoke to people who love eating, but who may be intimidated by the cooking process itself.
"Our staff is people who have no formal culinary background mixed with people who do. We want to be warm, friendly, not focused on perfection," Saltz said. "When you're building a brand, it should work for everyone."
After creating that big tent, Saltz wanted to focus on creating intimate connections with people. Saltz has a lengthy background in running print magazines, from Seventeen to Food Network Magazine, and when Hearst Magazines was discussing the prospect of creating a new experience for Delish subscribers, the idea of a print magazine immediately jumped out.
"We have evidence that people like to consume this brand in print by offering a new experience," Delish Chief Revenue Officer Dan Fuchs said. Delish had had previous success with cookbooks and "bookazines" like a one-off magazine of keto recipes, so a quarterly magazine was a natural fit.
"It was an opportunity for us to express our brand differently than we do in video or in digital," Saltz added.
The word "opportunity" came up frequently in our Zoom call with Saltz and Fuchs.
The opportunities with Delish are manifold. First, there's the simple artistic opportunity inherent in a food magazine. "We realized food does come to life in a beautiful way on the page," Saltz said as Fuchs proudly held up a copy of the first edition, which had a central theme of "Breakfast + Brunch." The issue blends the warmth and accessibility of the Delish digital brand with the gloss and luxury of a print magazine. Recipes in the issue are a blend of new and repurposed from the site, which were reshot for the magazine, making for some truly mouthwatering art.
Because Delish Quarterly would be launching in the Spring, it made sense to focus on breakfast and brunch for its first issue. "We could have done something obvious, like Easter or dinner," Saltz said. "But we hit on this idea of breakfast and new beginnings and we fell in love." Not only are breakfast and brunch associated with new beginnings, so is Spring, so there was a thematic resonance with this first print offering.
The first issue is indeed gorgeous and full of recipes that, though occasionally time-consuming, are rather achievable. (The Dulce de Leche pastry pockets on page 50 are fabulous.)
There's also the opportunity to get a little more creative editorially, to allow the staff to create their own trends or their own spin on viral drinks like dalgona coffee (a whipped, sweet drink that exploded in popularity in 2020). Instead of just giving Delish's print readers the recipe for dalgona coffee, writer Laura Rege created the dalgona martini. "It's the answer to a question nobody asked," Saltz said. "How do you turn this into a martini?"
Speaking of staff, they get to flex their writing chops. June Xie, one of Delish's video stars, was able to write a lovely personal piece accompanying her recipe for congee, a traditional Chinese porridge. Tess Koman, another video star, got to show off her incredible bagel knowledge for a piece about New York City's best bagels.
There are opportunities for advertisers, as well. The first issue contains no advertising, but they have several commitments for the next few issues and are open to working with partners on things like branded recipes. "We'd like to take digital ideas and possibly turn them into custom content in magazines," said Fuchs. "There are a lot of brands our audience really reacts to -- why not extend that into a partnership?"
Editorially, Saltz offered us a sneak peek at next quarter's theme: Campfire Cooking and Cookouts. It's a universally accepted truth that food tastes better when it's cooked outdoors, and while an improved vaccine rollout means backyard cookouts will likely be back this summer, Saltz said she and her team want to focus on recipes that encourage pandemic-safe activities like camping. (Even breakfast and brunch tend to be more intimate, household events, rather than large communal gatherings.)
Plus, Delish's audiences have long been going gaga for campfire cooking. "Every video we've done on s'mores has been huge," Saltz said, laughing. "We've done every s'mores recipe you can think of." Sounds like Delish subscribers are ready for s'more.
Photo credit: Photography by Erik Bernstein. Food Styling by Simon Andrews.
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