5 Things Editors and Publishers Can Do to Survive Digital Disruption

Being genuine on all platforms is crucial

About a year ago, I stopped referring to Bon Appétit as a magazine and started calling it a brand. Six months later I even dropped the air quotes. Not that it was easy.

If you attended journalism school or worked for your college daily, you were reared on the separation of church and state. Editors edited, publishers sold ads. Period. But college was a while ago. The mediascape is so competitive and fractured these days, you can't not be in sync with your publisher—across all channels. And, man, there are a lot of channels. It's like we're DirecTV.

At Bon Appétit we publish a monthly magazine, run a 24-7 website, crank out active Twitter and Instagram feeds, shoot weekly videos, produce special issues, publish cookbooks, record podcasts, orchestrate food festivals and throw really groovy dinners in our fancy-pants dining room at One World Trade Center. So yeah, we're a lot more than just a magazine. We're absolutely a brand. Or at least we strive to be. The question is, how do those of us formerly known as magazines operate on all these platforms while maintaining quality control and staying on message? What's the secret? I wish I knew.

Adam Rapoport Illustration: Alex Fine

What works on one platform often doesn't on another. In Bon Appétit (the magazine) we deliver a "premium" experience—lush visuals, rigorously tested recipes, far-flung destinations, highly curated goods and access to personalities we all wish we could be—or at least have a drink with.

But video—which is where the money's at these days, right?—is completely different. It's all about cheap and cheerful, we're told—food hacks, wacky trends and other YouTube favorites. None of which feels very, well, Bon Appétit (the magazine).

And take our Twitter and Instagram feeds (800K and 600K strong, respectively). The breezy and clever voice that propels these platforms doesn't fly on our more straight-down-the-middle Facebook page (790K). And while our Twitter and Instagram accounts feel, to me, much truer to what Bon Appétit is all about, Facebook drives eight times the amount of traffic to our website than those other two platforms combined.

And about that website. Since we relaunched it in 2011, it has grown from 750,000 monthly uniques (according to Omniture) to nearly 6 million. Though, I wish I could say it's our thoughtful chef profiles or well-produced videos that rack up the big numbers. But the top-tracking story on the day I was writing this article was—wait for it—"Dinner Tonight: 7 Things to Do With Ground Beef."

And therein lies the challenge of running a publishing brand—you're all over the place, which, to an extent, is the point. And eventually, as a staff, you embrace this reality. You view it not as a burden but as a chance to create amazing visuals and narrative across many platforms. And you come to terms with the fact that you'll like some of it better than others, and some will be hits and some misses.

Above all, you've got to be consistent. You've got to care as much about that 140-character Twitter post as that 1,400-word profile in your magazine. You need to approach everything you create with the same philosophy and same spirit.

It's a challenge. And always will be. But here are five things I tell my team at Bon Appétit to help us stay on the front burner:

Follow your gut. If you love something and are genuinely passionate about it, write about it. Chances are the reader (or viewer or user or listener) will be too.

Ask yourself, would I read that? If something doesn't make me smile or laugh or make me hungry, then why is it featured in our magazine or on our Instagram feed? We are a food lifestyle brand after all. Whatever content we create should be fun—no matter the platform.

Study the metrics. We need to understand how various platforms work. But we should never let metrics dictate the stories or videos we create. As soon as you start listening to focus groups and daily stat reports, you've sold your soul and will never find your way to anything genuine or interesting. You're only rehashing what's already been done rather than inventing. You are making the equivalent of a lame Hollywood sequel. No one will watch.

Remember, every platform matters. We can't control whether someone will access our content through a Google search or at the newsstand or on social or at an event we produce. It all needs to be consistent and true to who we are. It all needs to feel Bon Appétit.

When in doubt, follow Rule No. 1. Editors know when they're on to something cool and when they're just phoning it in. And so do their readers (and users and viewers).

So that's how we run things at Bon Appétit, the brand. Is it a recipe for success? I hope so.

Adam Rapoport (@Rapo4) is the editor in chief at Bon Appétit and was dubbed the "silver fox of the food world" by Bravo's Andy Cohen.