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20 years of Good Food

Some titles make the business of making money look soooo easy! Everything they touch seems to turn to gold. Good Food magazine, with its legion of hugely successful spin-offs, is one such title. Publishing director Alfie Lewis explains its publishing strategy.

By Alfie Lewis

Like all the very best ideas, you’ll find more than a handful of people willing to take credit for the original idea of Good Food magazine, if you ask around. Launched under licence by Redwood Publishing in October 1989 as the first and only magazine where you could find all of the recipes and chefs from TV, Good Food was an instant hit, creating a cookery magazine market where until that point there wasn’t one.

Twenty years on and over 100 million copies sold, it has been one of the true success stories in the history of UK magazine publishing. Still the market leader with a higher than ever reach across all types of formats and media, Good Food is now more popular than ever.

Good Food has a clear and simple vision and publishing strategy. The vision is to be “The Home of Real Cooking” and the strategy is to create the very best media products for all levels of home cooks across all formats. Whether you are just starting out in cooking or consider yourself an impressive home chef; whether you like to cook recipes from books and magazines or the web, or see chefs demonstrate live, or on TV, Good Food aims to have something for you.

Mag first, programme second

It’s a common misapprehension that Good Food started life as a TV show, with the magazine as its first brand extension. In the case of Good Food, the magazine came first and alongside the main Good Food magazine there has always been targeted portfolio publishing. In the early years, there were monthly sister titles Gourmet Good Food and Vegetarian Good Food. Today Veggie is bi-annual and there is the Good Food Home Cooking series, with a bimonthly focus on particular cuisines such as Italian and Healthy Eating. The hugely successful easycook is also a product of the Good Food team, taking recipes and features from the Good Food database and, alongside original easycook content, repurposing them for busy mums at the practical end of the market. Twenty years of creating, testing (“three times so they work first time for you” as the Good Food promise goes) and photographing 100 recipes a month has created an enormous recipe archive that drives much of the portfolio publishing from the Good Food group.

Team of cooks

At the heart of Good Food’s ongoing content generation is the small team of highly skilled and talented cooks and writers who spend all of their time in the Good Food kitchen creating and devising new recipes and twists on old favourites to provide inspiration and practical help for readers. Averaging around 100 recipes a month, the team provide the content for the main magazine, its sister titles, the thirty or so books we have in the shops at any given time, and the website.

Good Food Events

High quality, market-leading brand extensions are central to the Good Food brand strategy. They are how we extend the enjoyment of Good Food for our existing audience and how we find new fans. The first brand extension came only a year after the magazine launched. As with the magazine, the BBC Good Food Show created a market where there previously wasn’t one and, as with the magazine, the BBC Good Food Show was the only place you could see your favourite TV chefs in action, only this time in person. A joint venture with Haymarket, there are now four BBC Good Food Shows. The flagship event at the NEC each autumn attracts around 100,000 visitors and is the biggest event of its kind in Europe. There are two smaller autumn shows in London and Glasgow and a Summer Good Food Show, co-located with Gardener’s World Live at the NEC. The shows provide a great opportunity for us to meet our consumers face to face and have been a fantastic platform to promote and sell other Good Food products, particularly magazine subscriptions. They also enable our commercial partners and advertisers to engage with our audience directly and face to face. The latest exciting development from our live events business is the deal to incorporate MasterChef into our shows, with the London show transforming this year into MasterChef Live, a Good Food production. We anticipate that this move will attract fans of the UK’s most popular cookery TV show to the Good Food brand.

Good Food Books

If launching a series of live cookery events was a brave and ground-breaking move, deciding to publish a series of Good Food recipe books was probably the no-brainer part of the strategy. Taking the content created by the Good Food magazine cookery team and repackaging for the book market has proven hugely successful. Our greatest success is the 101 series. With titles like 101 One Pots, 101 Cheap Eats and 101 Best Ever Chicken Recipes we have sold well over two million copies though our partners, Ebury Books.

Good Food magazines, books and live shows then have all been a part of the Good Food story for twenty years. The last three years, however, have seen arguably the most exciting developments for the brand.

Good Food Website

In November 2006, was launched. It presented a challenge in that the killer proposition we developed was that of a searchable archive of all of the recipes ever featured in the magazines. With a magazine turnover of £12m, and even splits in revenues from advertising, subscriptions and newsstand circulation, would we put those at risk by offering the same content for free? Non-search online advertising was growing but small within the food sector and the proliferation of free recipe websites discouraged us away from a paid-for subscription model. It became clear that we had an incredible asset in 10,000 or so triple tested, fully photographed high quality recipes and that we should either seek to become the biggest and best free recipe website, or not bother at all.

Early user testing gave us encouragement. The research indicated that reading Good Food magazine was seen as a very different type of activity to browsing the website, providing a different service and serving different needs. You lean back to enjoy the magazine, lean forward for the website. The magazine editor is driving the magazine reading experience; with the website, the user is at the wheel. Having a digital future is crucial to the long term ambition for Good Food, so we decided to go all out to create a world class recipe site. Our research tells us that there is a very small group of people who no longer buy the magazine since they found the website. The vast majority see the site as complementary to the magazine and, most excitingly, there is a large and growing group who have discovered our magazines, live events, books etc, having come to the brand first through the website.

Now the most popular commercial recipe website in the UK, attracts 1.7 million unique users each month, is highly profitable in its own right and continues to deliver terrific results for the other Good Food formats, most notably magazine subscriptions (almost 10,000 a year at the lowest CPA there is). Confident that the various formats complement one another and play different roles in consumers’ lives, heavy cross promotion across all of the formats has been a central part of our strategy for growth. Recipes go onto the website at the same time they appear in the magazine and we regularly direct readers to the website to enrich the experience. And like everyone else, we are on Facebook, Flickr and we tweet daily to our 7,000 followers.

Good Food TV Channel

A recent development for the brand was the deal announced in July last year to licence the Good Food brand to uktv for what was formerly the uktv food TV channel. In the 1990s, uktv commissioned and broadcast a daily TV show, named Good Food Live, so we had a long standing relationship with the broadcaster. As part of an entire channel rebrand programme for all uktv channels, the rebrand to Good Food broadens the reach of the Good Food brand to 3.5m TV viewers, reinforcing its position as the UK’s leading food media brand.

The magazine is clearly benefiting from the strategy to invest in new formats. Good Food magazine outsells its nearest competitor by more than three copies to one, with an ABC circulation of 323,171. It even outsells own brand grocery titles Waitrose Food Illustrated and Sainsbury’s Magazine, despite their obvious distribution and CRM advantages. We have more subscribers (155,000) than ever before and advertising revenues across the brand are up on last year.

Good Food Apps

Continuing the strategy of finding new formats to connect with our audience, we have just launched an iPhone application, starting with a Good Food Guide to Christmas app, enabling users to access a specially selected series of recipes on the move. We are increasing the frequency of easycook and the Home Cooking series. Good Food magazine will unveil a new look with a redesign in February and ideas for new book series are in development.

Our ambition is that, however frequently and in whatever format people want to engage in high quality cookery content, Good Food will be the media brand of choice, the Home of Real Cooking.