Conde Nast to Revive Shuttered Mag Gourmet as Mobile App

CEO Townsend Sees Digital Potential for Domino, Another Victim of the Downturn

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Conde Nast found something to do with one of the magazine brands thrown on the scrap-heap during the recession: turn it into a mobile app.

Gourmet magazine, shuttered last fall, is coming back as Gourmet Live. This won't be about the high-end food writing that made Gourmet a legendary brand; rather, it will be a social food app built on the Gourmet content archives and "rewards for good living" such as "summer salads."

"It is not a magazine and not a digital version of a magazine," Conde Nast CEO Chuck Townsend said. Conde Nast showed off a demo of the publication in the form of an iPad app for journalists today. "We see magazines as the tip of the iceberg of what consumers will be willing to pay for."

When it rolls out as a free app in November, it will be available for the iPad, iPhone, Google's Android, Blackberry and other mobile platforms.

Mr. Townsend told Ad Age that other shelved brands that failed as print publications during the recession could be brought back in different forms, such as the beloved shelter title Domino, "one of those brands we know has real legs."

Conde Nast brought prominent media consultants Michael Wolf and Anil Dash to reinvent Gourmet. Mr. Wolf, a former MTV exec, and Mr. Dash, a prominent blogger and former Six Apart exec, are now partners in Activate, which was given the task of launching a new media property using Gourmet's content and brand on a web scale for today's market, without the legacy of a print publication or even the obligation to produce more content.

What they came up with is a social application infused with old Gourmet stories -- some classic, such as David Foster Wallace's 2004 piece "Consider the Lobster" -- to attract users into a social experience that will involve earning points, spending virtual currency and sharing recipes.

Informing the model are the success of other apps, such as the visual news reader Pulse, Instapaper and Foursquare.

The app will be free to download, but Mr. Dash said Activate will experiment with pay models for content along with the brand advertising that Conde is famous for. "You start to play with the content, earn rewards and attract your friends," he said.

Conde Nast isn't spending heavily on this start-up, which will continue to be managed outside Conde Nast headquarters in a start-up environment. Initially, the staff will be less about 10, consisting of developers working with Activate and "content producers" from Conde Nast. Gourmet won't have an editorial staff; content will come from the Gourmet community, which will be encouraged to participate.

It's not the first attempt to revive a defunct magazine brand in another form. Time Inc. brought back Life magazine, only to shutter it again and turn it into a web archive of Life photography.

Mr. Townsend said he expects the business to turn profitable quickly and to earn $20 million to $30 million in annual gross revenue within 36 months.

With ad pages up in the double-digits, Mr. Townsend said Conde Nast's magazine business had turned a corner; now, the company has to figure out how to expand beyond the legacy print business into growth areas of media, and that means trying new things.

"We are back in that business and happy to be back in that business," he said. "I would definitely include digital as part of that thinking."

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