Fire & Knives

by Steve Watson in January 2011
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Food & drink

Tim Hayward

Fire & Knives (UK)

Why did you start a food magazine?
I think a couple of things were behind it. I knew a lot of food writers who constantly moaned that they couldn’t get their best work published in the mainstream whenever it became too ‘specialist’: at the same time I knew from online communities that food lovers were bored rigid with the mainstream food media and were turning to the world of online self-publishing. It seemed that was a match made in heaven so I called a friend, Cathy Olmedillas from Present Joys who I knew had been successful in launching Anorak and she was able to find a way to bring everything into print.

Who are your readers?
A broad social mix but unified by an interest in British food culture, a love of good writing and a desire for something out of the mainstream. We have a surprisingly large subscriber base in Scandinavia, a few in the US (postage is criminally high) and, though we had always planned to be subscriber only, we now have an equal retail circulation. What I couldn’t have predicted was the interest from the design world, for which I obviously have to thank Rob Lowe, our Art Director.

What’s so special about food writing?
I don’t know. We discuss it all the time. What the mainstream press regard as food writing today is a kind of vacuous mishmash of lifestyle and consumer journalism. Historically, food writing was a sort of dilettante hobby for the absurdly privileged. The UK has developed a food culture incredibly fast in the last decades and the definition of what constitutes relevant writing about food is in constant flux just trying to keep up. I like to think F&K is part of that redefinition.

Why are independent food magazines so popular at the moment?
I think we’re seeing a fascinating change in special interest media. Years ago there were hundreds of tiny magazines covering special interests in byzantine detail. An area like model railway engineering would have half a dozen titles, run by enthusiasts and consumed by enthusiasts. When the big magazine publishers started buying them up and consolidating the mags to create economies of scale something radically changed.

The mainstream food press, funded by advertising, benefits from constantly broadening its market. You get more eyeballs by writing stuff that appeals to a wider audience. If putting in celebrities and dumbing down the features alienates a couple of crusty old foodies it gains hundreds with only a marginal interest. That’s why the enthusiasts are turning first to the internet and then to independent mags as they appear, to service their tiny specialist community.

Truth is, I’m not sure there will be a profitable business model in specialist magazine publishing ever again – if indeed there ever was – but with a natural concentration on profitability, mainstream magazines have lost, forever, their ability to appeal to that audience.

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