The COVID-19 pandemic and related recession have slashed the news industry, news magazines included. But hobbyist magazines are sustaining, even thriving in some cases, as audiences look for advice and things to do at home.
Health, food, and home and garden titles, among others, have seen an abundance of readers and social media engagement since stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders swept across the country during the past month.
Conde Nast’s Epicurious, offering home cooking recipes and tips, was one of the first publications to create content related to the pandemic, according to David Tamarkin, Epicurious’ digital director. In late February, the magazine began a 14-day, all-pantry meal plan with input from public health experts.
“That particular story did tremendous numbers when it came out, and I think it was the level of seriousness that made it compelling,” Tamarkin said via email.
Then Epicurious started “Cooking Through It,” a 10-day meal plan of flexible recipes that can be made with whatever people have in their kitchen. The team included a community element by announcing Epicurious editors would cook through the plan on their Instagram accounts.
Tamarkin said the positive responses to the flexible recipes surprised him, and it will likely change the way the team does things after the pandemic.
“We put a lot of work into being exacting with our recipes to make sure they work, but what I’m seeing is that people feel relief when the recipe gives them permission to riff,” he said via email. “I don’t think this is a situational thing; I think people have felt constrained by traditional recipe writing for a while, and this experience is giving us the opportunity to loosen the recipe up and set people free.”
Meredith’s Real Simple has its editors shooting video from home on topics like looking your best for a videoconference, cleaning with baking soda, and trimming your own bangs.
“On our social media handles, we’re noticing increased engagements as the Real Simple audience rallies around to create a real sense of community,” said Real Simple editor-in-chief Liz Vaccariello via email.
For April, Meredith’s Health is on pace to hit a 112% year-over-year increase in sessions, according to executive digital editor Dara P. Kapoor. The publication has a dedicated coronavirus page, linked prominently from its homepage, with articles about how drinking affects immune responses, how long the virus can live on clothing and what it’s like to be treated for breast cancer during the pandemic.
Since February, Health has seen a new daily normal of double the amount of sessions it saw in late 2019.
“There is so much reader interest in all facets of this pandemic, we’ve even launched a dedicated newsletter on the topic,” Kapoor said via email.
At Hearst, Kristine Brabson, executive director of content strategy, said home-focused brands, including Good Housekeeping and Country Living, have embraced their audiences’ desire to stay busy and to do DIY activities
“After quickly seeing archive and new videos on their YouTube channel around sewing and crafting start popping in mid-March, Good Housekeeping quickly added new DIY videos to their YouTube lineup,” she said via email. “Some of the best-performing videos on the [Good Housekeeping] YouTube channel in the past few weeks have been sewing-related and very topical to the current health crisis,” including a tutorial on making your own mask as well as a video on how to make a mask without sewing.
Creating community is also becoming more important as people stay at home and forgo typical activities.
Conde Nast’s Teen Vogue is hosting a virtual prom for readers on May 16 through Zoom. The brand will also host a commencement across platforms and will feature a mix of inspiring leaders and stars, as well as student speakers.
“So many high school and college seniors across the country will be missing out on these milestone events this year, and we hope these virtual experiences will bring some joy and normalcy to those students during a difficult time,” said Lindsay Peoples Wagner, editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue, via email.
Likewise, Them, Conde Nast’s LGBTQ+-focused brand, will host a virtual celebration honoring Pride called “Out Now Live.” Them will be kicking off New York City Pride Week on June 22 with a broadcast of special musical performances, messages, drag shows, speeches and more, said them executive editor Whembley Sewell via email.
“As a social-first brand, social impact has always been one of our biggest areas of focus,” she said. “As we watched our friends and followers cope with the loss of access to essential, affirming community spaces, we sought to ensure that our social platforms were a resource and virtual gathering point for LGBTQ+ people everywhere.”
Though many magazines have seen massive audience increases, they’re not immune to the business issues all news organizations face in the pandemic. Conde Nast sent a memo to staff April 13 that said the company would implement pay cuts, furloughs and possible layoffs. On April 20, Meredith announced it would cut pay for about 60% of its staff until September.
Hearst’s CEO told the company it would not implement any cost-saving measures during the pandemic.
Kristi Eaton is a freelance journalist and Tulsa Artist Fellow in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Visit her website at KristiEaton.com.