By now, nearly everyone reading Grub Street is aware of Lucky Peach, David Chang’s very impressive collab with McSweeney’s. Well, the Times’ David Carr has seen it, too. And he’s very, very impressed. In today’s Media Equation column, Carr writes that by breaking “many of the conventions not only of food journalism, but of magazine journalism in general,” Lucky Peach is creating a new, better model that magazine publishers should start paying attention to.
So! What are the elements that Carr says make Lucky Peach stand out? Other food mags “use tiny recipes and glossy photos to expose readers to as many cuisines as possible.” LP, meanwhile, will put out issues devoted to single themes. (We’ll forgive Carr for overlooking the fact that the July issue of Bon Appétit was “the grilling issue,” and that the May Issue was all about Italy.) Also: LP’s cover is a chicken, not some famous movie star; Chang’s mag doesn’t have any ads; and the paper stock is matte, not glossy.
Carr argues that all of these elements would make LP “too cute by half, a fetish object for foodies, if not for the larger lesson it provides for publishers.” That lesson? Magazine-reading is becoming a “niche” activity, and publishers need to reward readers by “offering heft and a kind of ‘thing-ness’ that gives [magazines] value over other ways of consuming text.”
But then Carr undoes his whole thesis by offering this statistic: LP sold out of both its first printing and its second. That’s a combined 62,000 copies for a magazine that will, at most, come out four times a year. Both Food Network Magazine and Bon Appétit say their monthly circulation is about 1.5 million. So maybe these magazines are not so niche-y in comparison to Lucky Peach. We’re not saying the numbers mean the other magazines are better, but from a business standpoint you might say that holding up the big glossies next to Lucky Peach is like comparing apples to, well, you know.