It ain’t easy being a magazine in the digital age. Being a food magazine in what has become a very crowded market in New Zealand is even tougher. ACP’s Taste magazine didn’t fare too well in the most recent circulation and readership results and in a bid to position itself in a unique space against the competition, it has been at the centre of an editorial and design overhaul. The relaunched issue went out to the masses this month but is still very much a work in progress.
It’s fair to say new editor in chief, Emily Simpson, is feeling pretty confident about its future.
“I think we’re really tapping into the zeitgeist...I feel like Taste is going to be the one people look to now and see what we do next. There’s nobody out there that surprises me. I feel like I know what they’re doing, where as we’ve got surprises up our sleeve.”
Simpson, the former editor of Pro Design and Sunday magazine, and current editor in chief of Little Treasures, has been joined by the extremely well-bearded designer Charlie McKay, who’ll hold onto the design reins though to October.
Simpson says that while the magazine had a loyal following of subscribers and regular retail customers, its recognition among the general public was a bit more “nebulous” in comparison to titles like Cuisine, Healthy Food Guide and Foodtown’s Food magazine.
Launched seven years ago, Simpson says Taste’s mission was to be a “more friendly, accessible alternative to Cuisine, which at that time was the one everyone thought of”.
But as more and more titles entered the market over the years, things got a little confused.
“You’ve got this really crowded, bustling, cheap and cheerful end and then you’ve got Cuisine which people think of as being all-class...and then you have this hole in the middle which to me is not a hole, it’s actually where most people live,” says Simpson.
That hole, she adds, encompasses those who want to eat well and feel good without wanting to count how many teaspoons of sodium there are in everything they eat. And it involves tapping into all the exciting things that are happening in food, be it eating local, growing your own food or exploring international cuisine.
“There was this big revolution of food that was not being tapped into by any of the magazines and that’s where I wanted to position it.”
Its gardening section demonstrates that change in thinking. Where it once focused to how to cook something seasonal from your garden, the focus is now more on creating mini profiles on young people who grow food in an urban space, the current issue featuring someone who made their glass house using recycled glass.
Elsewhere, Simpson is keen to foster a more personal relationship between readers and regular contributors, and to tap into the psychology of how people cook and eat, “and how we can demystify it and make it easy and simple.”
“People don’t necessarily use recipes every night — they go off the knowledge they have in their brains. So we’re trying to inform people with basic ideas like sauces that aren’t basically recipes, but advice on what flavours go together."
From a design perspective, the magazine has to look good on your coffee table, says Simpson, something especially pertinent in the internet age.
“Information is not enough in a magazine. They have to be a nice thing to hold and to have because you can Google how to make just about anything.”
McKay says the magazine has been through a number of different looks over a fairly short amount of time, leaving it feeling a little bit confused.
“I basically tried to remove a lot of design. It was too complicated. I really just want to make the food hero. Bigger pictures, simple type. Bold simplicity is the idea and I think having a bit of fun with the way the photography is produced is key as well.”
As for the competition, McKay says you can’t get too hung up on what they’re doing, or you’ll just end up “being part of the wallpaper and blending into the newsstand.”
“I just want to make the magazine a nice object to look at and have around the home, whilst also being a useful resource that is fun to use.”
Of course no editor is going to be negative about a relaunch, and you’d expect Simpson to say readers and advertisers have been supportive and positive about the new look and editorial direction. And she is, but admits there were a couple of grumbles.
“We took a giant step in July and then we’re going to spend the next year fine tuning it. Every issue is going to be better.”
No doubt ACP will be counting on it. Losing 15,000 readers in the recent Nielsen Magazine Comparatives Q2 2011 - Q1 2012 readership results, it fared worse than many other food titles, particularly Foodtown’s re-branded magazine Food, which upped its readership by an impressive 59,000 readers to reach 391,000 over the same period last year. Taste’s current circulation stands at 26, 046 with a readership of 202,000.