GRAM Magazine – a Good Thing

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It was never the intention that Consider The Sauce should generate income – well, not directly anyway.

But certainly it was and is part of a broader strategy to re-invent myself after a long and wearing-and-tearing tenure in the hurly burly of metropolitan newspapers.

Happily, there have been numerous and unexpected benefits.

The pleasure and smiles that greet us when returning to little migrant eateries about whom we have written.

The quiet satisfaction of giving one in the eye for those who continue bang on about “illegals” and so on.

The profound and enhancing affect our blog has had on relationship between father and son.

Through it all, I have been keeping a keen eye out for opportunities for myself and Consider The Sauce beyond the blog being merely a glorified business card.

As I became more and more familiar with the food blogging scene, it became clear that certain things just weren’t going to work for us.

Our current blogging platform precludes the use of adverts and so on, but from what I’ve been able to learn the income they generate – for food bloggers anyway – is so miniscule that they’re barely worth the bother.

Add to that the certain fact that they compromise blogs so drastically and awfully on a visual and aesthetic level, and it’s a firm case of No Thanks!

Likewise for giveaways and paid posts, in which bloggers are paid for writing posts about products or services.

I have been approached by a handful of PR companies spruiking products or inviting me to product launches and the like. One of the invites actually appealed, but I couldn’t fit it into my dance card.

As for the rest, it’s impossible not to dismiss as spam epistles that start with immortal words such as: “We are contacting you because we know you are an influential blogger …”

Yes, well, ahem, excuse me while I ROTFLMAO.

I have no moral objection to these and many other related practices.

I’m a life-long career newspaperman with long involvement in the entertainment industry under my belt, so am well acquainted with doing deals and the art of compromise.

It’s just in the case of blogs, food blogging, food bloggers and Melbourne food bloggers in particular, bloggers are being had.

Read about it at the Deep Dish Dreams posts Food Bloggers as Marketing Puppets Part 1. Evolution and Food Bloggers as Marketing Puppets Part 2. Marketing Tricks and Psychology.

I may well have a price, but if so it is a bloody long way short of being mentioned to this point.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to stick to our version of the high road while looking for ways to leverage our blog in ways that keep our self-esteem and integrity intact.

A restaurant dude said to me a few weeks back: “Kenny, you should understand – people trust your blog.”

Put that up against piffling Nuffnang dollars and PR-fuelled hackery and it’s no contest.

In any case, I was intrigued when – last year – I received an email from an outfit called StudioCea announcing a new monthly Melbourne foodie magazine called GRAM.

It’s aim was to “collate” the work of Melbourne bloggers, supply links back to the blogs of origin and get A3 newsprint copies around the city. Part of the deal involved barcodes to scan with mobile devices linking punters to the blogs involved.

I was fascinated – perhaps here was something that could be an opportunity for me as both blogger and journalist.

Long before the first issue hit the streets, I engaged Roberto and Merita from StudioCea in email and, eventually, face-to-face dialogue.

I liked them, I had some fun with it.

Right from the start, though, I warned them that one of the fundamentals of their approach – paraphrasing blogger posts and then providing links – was doomed to failure.

Unlike others, I believed them in terms of sincerity. The magazine publishing game is tough and I knew enough to believe that the full-page ads in the first few issues were falling way short of making them big bucks or even covering costs. 

I predicted, though, that many bloggers would see those same ads and scream: “RIP-OFF!”

Not a good look either, was GRAM’s decision to let individual bloggers opt out rather than opt in to a relationship with the magazine. Thus a blogger could find his or her work rewritten and used online at the magazine’s website and the hard copy without permission being granted.

All perfectly legal, but hardly the way to make friends with the food blogger community.

And so it turned out to be.

While I went about my business with Consider The Sauce and elsewhere, GRAM became a big talking point, a brouhaha with which I only recently became familiar.

Read about it in this news story at Crikey and feisty posts and comments at Tomato and Sarah Cooks.

After a few issues, the GRAM crew changed tack.

Henceforth, they would use entire bloggers posts and at least some of the photos involved.

Bloggers would be paid.

While the magazine continues to evolve – it’s up to issue number 9 under new ownership – the change in the ongoing relationship with Melbourne’s bloggers created an immediate and substantial improvement in the product.

While inevitably fewer bloggers are being used in each issue, the varied personalities of the bloggers selected for each issue are allowed to breath and shine.

As such, IMHO, it goes pretty close to mirroring the diverse, argumentative and colourful Melbourne food blogging scene.

As Roberto was happy to concede in an email to me, after I suggested the enforced change of structure was very much a blessing: “You are right – I (and others) do think it’s an improvement. It’s funny how these things turn out for the better hey?”

If my own experience is anything to go by, management old and new have adopted a very much hands-off approach to meddling with copy.

What’s that?

“Well, of course, he would say all that, wouldn’t he?!”

It’s true Consider The Sauce has been included three times in GRAM so far. It’s true I’ve been paid at rates that, from what I can gather, are more than fair when compared to, say, The Age’s Cheap Eats Guide or even Gourmet Traveller.

It’s true, too, that recent editions have included several of the Melbourne food blogs I admire and follow – while including none of those I detest!

Nevertheless, it seems to my admittedly biased eye that in a rapidly changing media landscape that affects the dynamics of the hospitality industry as much anything else, GRAM is playing a pretty nifty role in merging the passions of food bloggers with old-school publishing.

GRAM is now owned and operated by Prime Creative, which publishes such foodie titles as BeanScene and Italianicious, and a number of others magazines as well.

Prime Creative management and new editor Danielle Gullaci are letting their new baby continue to operate very much along the same lines as before, despite GRAM being very different from their other mastheads in terms of paper quality, size, distribution, readership and relationship with contributors.

This is both a good and a bad thing.

There’s always room for improvement, but GRAM seems to be striking a good balance at the moment.

On the other hand, GRAM’s distribution continues to be restricted to Melbourne’s CBD and hyper-inner-city suburbs such as Carlton.

I guess for some, GRAM and anything like it will always be anathema just on principle, and others may struggle to ever forgive the publication for those early mis-steps and clumsiness.

I’ve long maintained that the likes of The Age’s Cheap Eats Guide and its bigger and more formal and more big bucks sister are well out of date by the time the new editions hit the street each year.

A fellow blogger was more strident when commenting to me recently: “Mate, they’re out of date even before that!”

In that sort of context – of sweeping change and uncertainty – GRAM may not represent the future but it strikes me as a pretty fine present.

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