One of my favorite magazines will be the subject of today’s Foodie Fun Friday post. As with most of my food posts, there are business lessons contained herein – but also some info on making fine eats!

Cook’s Illustrated is sort of the Consumer Reports for foodies.  While there are many food magazines that give you a recipe for, say, a roasted pork loin, Cook’s will give you a recipe but also explain to you how they cooked 35 loins with slight variations in method and technique to come up with the one they’re giving you.  I have cooked hundreds of things out of this magazine over the years (and I’ve been a subscriber since 1998) and I have never had a bad result.  I can’t say the same for any of the other magazines I’ve used (I subscribe to 5 others).

From a business perspective, Cook’s is interesting.  It’s run by Christopher Kimball, the editor and publisher of “Cook’s Illustrated” and the host of “America’s Test Kitchen.”  The magazine has never contained any advertising and is, as a result, more expensive than other publications.  The web site is pretty much all paid content.  Knowingly or not, Cook’s didn’t fall into the trap that many content companies did and recognized that high-quality content (think HBO, kids) can demand a premium and doesn’t need to be advertising dependent.  They seem to be channel-agnostic and use technology as a tool while not confusing it with their basic business.  While I have no clue how well the company is doing financially (and the line-extension into “Cook’s Country” has me curious!), the quality of the content has never waived and I happily pay for the print and web content.

So what can we learn here, other than which santoku knife is the best buy?

  • Don’t try to be all things to all people.  Cook’s is in a premium segment, they’ve forsworn ads, and they know who they are.
  • Focus on great content and use technology to fill various channels with it.
  • Be accessible.  The tone of everything they do is conversational; Chris’ blog is too, and every issue begins with a soft-spoken “Letter From Vermont.”
  • As always, be the best.  Every recipe works; every product they suggest has been tested.  They are authoritative without being pompous.

If you’re serious about cooking, Cook’s Illustrated is certainly a publication I’d recommend.  If you’re serious about business, it’s not a bad place to start either!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, Thinking Aloud

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