Digital versus hard copy food media


I had a fight with the newspaper on the train as I went to work last week. It was the Good Living section of the Sydney Morning Herald. We’re usually pretty good pals. Dog-eared from being stashed in my handbag for days and badly refolded after my last fleeting perusal, the weekly lift-out refused to fold neatly as I attempted to catch up on the latest culinary news.

It was raining outside. I was juggling a bag, a brolly and a newspaper with a bad attitude. It was a proper girlie fisty-cuffs: a lot of flapping and slapping and then some pages fell to the floor. I wrestled with it and dropped some more. As I shoved the paper in my bag, our friendship in tatters, my iPad – compact, neatly stowed, and well behaved – caught my eye.

The iPad is slowly winning my culinary heart. At the recent Tasting Australia festival in South Australia I listened to an expert panel, including the Guardian’s food editor Matthew Fort, discuss cookbooks – how to get published, to be precise. As they made their case to the audience about the importance of buying books – paper ones, that is – I purchased and downloaded a copy of Matthew Fort’s Eating up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa to my iPad. In my defense, his books had just sold out in the Dymocks tent.

Fort is a wordsmith, so reading his work on an electronic reader has its benefits. You just highlight obscure words – and he uses them profusely – and they’re instantly defined. He also drops many Italian culinary references, which can be highlighted and immediately searched on the web and Wikipedia.

But it’s the Australian Gourmet Traveller iPad edition that has really stoked my appetite for digital food media. The magazine and I have had an on-again, off-again relationship for years. I’ll take out a subscription for a while, we’d have a trial separation as I courted other publications, and then we’d be inseparable again.

I’m currently somewhat besotted with the electronic version. June’s “great British issue” has a photograph of a rather handsome pork pie on the cover, which looks good enough to eat as it is. But in a stroke of interactive genius, a hand then comes in and takes a slice. Nice work!

Also in the current issue is an article about Australian chef Brett Graham. When the reader scrolls down to a series of Graham’s recipes, including one for pumpkin soup with ginger milk, the accompanying photograph automatically scrolls the right revealing elements of the wider shot. It’s another cheeky moment that the iPad edition pulls off well.

An advertisement in another issue shows several cross buns, one of which is sliced in half. A knife comes into view and swipes one half with butter, which melts before the reader’s eyes. It’s another nice touch.

Talented photographers have long been bringing food to life before our eyes. But the interactivity that digital media enables adds a whole new dimension to the cookery book/magazine genre. However, I confess I’ve become a bit of an interactive ad slag; hovering in front of photographs and advertisements waiting for them to come to life, and feeling somewhat hard done by if they don’t.

There are many clever features in the iPad edition of the magazine. You can add events straight to your calendar, email recipes, and tap a map icon next to a restaurant review to have Google Maps pinpoint its exact location. Videos give step-by-step instructions of how to make some dishes. And when you scroll down the page reading a story an icon lets you know the article has ended, which means you can stop scrolling and avoid follow-on ads, though i’m not sure what the advertisers will make of that.

Naturally you can tap the screen and be directed straight to the Gourmet Traveller website for more recipes or information on a particular theme. And you can bookmark pages, so you can pick up where you left off.

You can easily toggle between apps and tasks on your iPad. If you hear an email arrive, just flick out of Gourmet Traveller to check your inbox. Or if you want to compare similar recipes online, just click on the web browser and cruise other recipe sites. It’s far more convenient than swapping between magazine and computer, and makes for one, big couch potato session.

Now, if ingredients in recipes could be added to an integrated shopping list that would be really nifty.

One gripe that I have with the digital version is that you don’t know how far you have progressed into the issue (and if you’re a bit of a control freak like me, you won’t like the feeling of flying blind). With the hard copy at least you can see if you’re halfway through, for example, or nearing the end. With the iPad edition I feel lost in a world of digital oblivion, often swiping across the screen when I should be scrolling down, and vice versa.

Some recipes have the ingredients and method on different pages, which can be inconvenient if you’re in the midst of an icky-sticky finger moment.

But my biggest gripe of all is that if you choose to subscribe for one month only, the subscription automatically renews when that month is over (read the fine print) unless you manually cancel it in the iTunes store. It’s inconvenient, and frankly somewhat sneaky and greedy of the ACP Magazine subscription team. I mean, if you choose to subscribe for a month, isn’t that specific enough?

However, the flaws are few and insufficient for me to dump my newfound digital friend. While i love cookbooks i simply don’t have room for any more, and I suspect it’s just a matter of time before my penchant for hard copy tomes takes a similar digital detour.

So, how do you get your food media fix? Do you prefer a hard copy or digital edition? And what would it take to make the digital switch?



Filed under Book Reviews, Reflections

24 responses to “Digital versus hard copy food media

  1. I think I’m a bit old-fashioned and prefer my cookbooks and cooking magazines to be in paper format. There’s something about being about to flick through the pages to get to the recipe on a page which you have memorised, not least being able to take notes and write it directly on the page or on a post-it note for future reference. I blame it on a mixture of my upbringing and my stubborn ways which prevent me from switching completely to digital media. I’m pretty confident that the next generation will find electronic books much easier to use and navigate and will probably find hard copies to be ridiculously archaic. Why have 20 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica when you can have everything on a single CD? It makes complete sense, yet I am seduced by the feel, sound and smell of a turning page.

    But I wish the magazines to which I subscribe allow free access to their digital copies. If one is already subscribing to the hard-copy, one is unlikely to also subscribe to the digital copy if the content is the same, albeit the presentation and visual effects will be different. But I guess I will never try out the digital version if I am already paying for the hard-copy … and this automatic subscription which you mentioned is actually very sneaky practice which the ACCC frown upon, as do many other regulatory bodies worldwide. It’s a practice which is slowly being ruled out in many sectors like banking and finance because of tighter laws and regulations, so I am surprised that the news media are still using it.


    • Thanks for your thoughtful response. It’s slightly weird thinking of books as being old-fashioned! And it’s a shame that it’s coming to that. I do love books and i’m sure i always will. But there are times when digital editions are much more practical … traveling springs to mind! I think in reality the future is for a combined digital/hard copy library in my home – with stronger leanings towards one or the other for particular genres. I suspect cookbooks, for example, will have a stronger hard copy showing, and magazines will dominate the digital space. A few years ago, i would have been saying paper all the way!


  2. I have to agree with eat, little bird. I, too, like reading paper format and would prefer my cookbooks and food magazines to be on paper. However, I have to confess I spend a lot of time on my tiny macbook pro, reading food blogs and newsfeeds. (I had an ipad, but there were hiccups and known issues with mail on the version I indulged in, so I took it back for a full refund, in disgust).

    True, why have 20 volumes of World Book, when you can have one CD or just a sub. But then there is something delicious about the smell and feel of heavy bound volumes with gold embossed edging on the pages. I gave my sister the encyclopaedias that my father gave me and really wish I hadn’t.

    The perks of the digital magazine sound quite enticing, but I think I will stick with what I am accustomed to… even though I don’t have any more room either!


    • I doubt i would have headed down the digital track quite so happily had it not been for the lack of space, Lizzy! I love having my books around me, don’t get me wrong. But i foresee a future, in my household at least, of a combined digital hard copy collection. And is suspect its magazine subscriptions that will be converted to digital … as i still have a big soft spot for books. Thanks for dropping by!


  3. I prefer flipping through my cookbooks and magazines in paper. But as Lizzy says above, the digital world is great for browsing food blogs and reading food news!


    • Yes the paper and digital worlds both have their benefits and drawbacks. My preference currently is for hard copy cookbooks … but i’m not sure where i’ll be with that in a year or two. It’s partly a space thing … they take up so much room! Love them to bits, but some times they’re just not practical. But some times practicality has to take a back seat!


  4. I love my collection of cookbooks, I love thumbing through their pages and running my fingers along their spines – they make me happy. I think I will always want to have hard copy cook books. Magazines on the other hand, I cannot wait to get an iPad so I can have all my issues in the one place.


  5. As sad as it is I’ve switched to digital forms of food notes. Cause it’s simple. Hoard digitally then hit delete when you are over it and watch it disappear into the atmosphere. Environmentally conscious.


  6. I think there’s a time and a place for both. There’s nothing nicer than sitting on the couch with a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon, surrounded by cookbooks whilst planning the menu for an upcoming dinner party. But, there are times (when I’m traveling, when I’m in town and need a quick idea for dinner, when I’m bored on the commute and need something to read that doesn’t also weigh 8kg) that digital wins out.

    Also, cookbooks and magazines are different. Huge stacks of cookbooks look beautiful on bookshelves. Cookbooks can also be art books (see The Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen) but huge stacks of magazines can just look messy around the house. So, for me, it’s cookbooks in hard copy, magazines in digital.


  7. C

    Agree with Sarah Kate, cookbooks in hard copy and mags digitally, less mess, enviro-friendly. I love the big, gorgeous, cookbooks by Greg Malouf, Kylie Kwong, Bill etc and love the food spills and dog eared pages of Cooks Companion, all the new books stack up near my bed providing pleasure in their coloured spines and potential in their pages


    • I, too, love the big gorgeous cookbooks by the likes of David Thomson and they will alway have a place in my heart and by my hearth! And i agree, magazines are the mostly likely candidates heading for digital format in my book! Thanks for dropping by, Cath.


  8. I am a big fan of both.and when asked to choose one over another, I can’t! Although I usually use the iPad to read blogs rather than download magazine apps.


  9. torihaschka

    You have summed up my conundrum completely. I find the digital version of Gourmet Traveller frustrating for exactly the same reason of not knowing how far through I am- but on the flip side, I’m so grateful for it because without it, in London I couldn’t easily get it. But for me, there’s still so much pleasure in a real book.


    • I
      I’m glad it’s not just me who likes to know how far they have progressed in a publication! And I guess that is another plus of digital publications … Access to the just about anywhere! Thanks for dropping by.


  10. I work in digital so it pains me to say this but when it comes to cookbooks, I prefer them in hardcopy rather than in an e-book format but I don’t mind reading mags in digital format. Cookbooks take a beating in the kitchen so I’ve never been tempted to use my ipad for the fear that I’ll no doubt spill something on it.


  11. Yes, some of my cookbooks are well and truly splattered! I have to say, though, using an iPad in the kitchen has made me a much cleaner/tidier cook! Though there’s no preparing for a calamity … is suspect that will be my iPad’s downfall! Love digital mags!


  12. i also look ahead to a finish and lightweight selection of newspapers on my iPad. So much simpler to shop, bring and accessibility. I’m not sure i’ll be able to move my cook book practice quite as quick.


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