The State of Independent Food Media

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h1 I don't think any day is worth living without thinking about what you're going to eat next at all times.

Nora Ephron

It's summertime, which means it's time to get outside and fire up the grill - or pack a picnic and head for the beach. Last month, four out of ten Internet users in the U.S. visited food websites. Whether searching for barbecued rib recipes on Google, booking a restaurant, or regularly visiting and participating in their favorite online food sites, every month 88 million Americans are going online searching for food. And it’s a growing universe of readers. The most recent numbers from Comscore show that food sites grew 23 percent from 2011 to 2012. By comparison, the entire Internet population grew by just 3 percent over that same period of time.

What’s fueling this growth? Smaller sites with one writer or a handful of writers sharing their unique point of view with an audience. Recipe sites still attract the most attention making up the biggest source of food media online and accounting for 57 percent of those sites. But independent sites are catching up fast, accounting for 33 percent of all online food traffic.

This is not unique to online food. It's the same phenomenon that catapulted Julia Child to icon status. Her television show and cookbooks got Americans back into the kitchen in the 1960s. Julia made cooking fun, funny and accessible. The next step in the evolution of food influence online was the rise of celebrity chefs via the Food Channel in the early 1990s. Emeril Lagasse had one of the first hit shows and paved the way for many others after him. While they may not have actually prompted people to cook more often, they did get people thinking more about food than ever before.

And of course, the newest generation of influencers are now online. Take Pippa Lord of SousStyle who is inspiring 20-somethings to eat and live well. Or the talented editors of Kinfolk, a magazine, a site, and iPad app that was created by a group of photographers, designers, painters and stylists to celebrate small gatherings. Or Food 52 which was started 2 years ago by New York Times food columnist-turned-entrepreneur Amanda Hesser and her colleague Merrill Stubbs as a food community - and which just won a James Beard award.

So, while plenty of people are still going to Google and typing in terms like no-bake summer pies, the online properties that are growing today are unique sites where the creators are forging a personal connection with readers that builds trust and community.

After all, to paraphrase the late great Nora Ephron: You only have so many meals in your life, why squander any on a tuna melt?