Tim Hayward is The Guardian‘s food blogger and won the New Media Award at the Guild of Food Writers awards earlier this year. He’s also a very good mate of ours. Tim has now launched his own food magazine, Fire & Knives, and he kindly agreed to tell us all about it.
BST: What is the concept behind Fire & Knives?
TIM HAYWARD: Mainstream food media have become immensely ‘lifestyle’. I knew loads of food writers who just couldn’t get longer form, intelligently written pieces commissioned anymore. I also knew, through social media, hundreds of food lovers who couldn’t find anything interesting to read anymore.
Pulling it together — particularly using digital printing, a distributed ‘zine’-style production team and using social media to build audience — was pretty much a no-brainer. That’s as high a concept as I can give you.
How is Fire & Knives different from mainstream foodie fayre such as Observer Food Monthly?
The traditional food magazines rely entirely on advertising. They will increase (or at least try to maintain) revenue if they can expand their audience from a special interest group to those with a marginal interest or, indeed, those attracted to celebrities and their opinions on food.
The result is an unavoidable dumbing down and celebrity focus. It’s now too late for any of those mags to go to a subscription funded model. With no advertising, our subscriptions pay for the printing and production. We don’t have to worry about how wide our audience is or their demographics — it’s only advertising that requires that. The magazine is as big as the audience want it to be. So we’re really growing, building and attracting an audience rather than seeking one out and attempting to address it. It’s the opposite of ‘focus-group’ thinking and that has to be the first time that’s happened in years.
Why start a food magazine, particularly now when magazines are closing down?
I think the magazine world is in uproar because the model of a mag involves 20 staff, an office, advertising revenue to pay them and a marketing function to attract both advertisers and audience. There’s no other way — until you look at ‘zine world and realise there are kids putting together creditable magazines with pocket change. The way Big Mags are heading now they are inevitably leaving behind a valuable audience and talented writers.
Can you explain a bit about Fire & Knives’ distinctive design?
Rob Lowe. Rob worked on Sleaze Nation and combines design and illustration skills with years of magazine experience. Rob and Cathy Olmedillas form Present Joys who are responsible for the design. I gave him an odd brief — all my favourites for the last year from ffffound.com stuck into an apple-printed booklet — and asked him to make something of it. The result is superb. He hit it on the button first time. That logo would have looked great on a government information pamphlet in the 40’s, on a packet of cheap Canadian bacon in the ’70’s and it looks fantastic on a T–shirt today.
What are the criteria for contributors?
We’re looking for new writers who may not have been in print before, for established writers with a story they can’t sell elsewhere and for writers in other fields who might bring a new perspective to food. Most importantly we’re looking for the tonality of the true ‘amateur’ — in the sense of ‘one who loves’ food — rather than a connnoisseur or ‘one who knows’. I guess the other important thing is that we are interested in British food. We are getting in touch with our own food culture now and it’s time we stood by it. Finally… no recipes or celebrity stories — others do that better.
Are there plans beyond a printed magazine? Or is the intention to keep it simple and focused?
Print only. All the way. We can build fame online but we can only establish value for the written word and the photograph, in print. The brand might expand into other things but the mag stays in print forever.
As a blogger yourself, do you think that there is a revival in writing for passion rather than purely profit?
I’m certainly finding that writers now — both the the new writers who’ve come through new media, blogging and the like and the traditional writers who get what’s going on — are aware of the importance of their personal brand. It’s great getting paid to write but if unpaid media are the only place to show your potential then you need to balance both. I regard our writers as a key audience too. They need to know they are being showcased at their best. We make sure their stories look great and are circulated to a list of influential people with commissioning power.
Of what other trends do you think Fire & Knives is representative?
I guess a growing confidence in British food culture, a revival in specialist print publishing, media properties that grow online but monetise offline and a trend for creatives taking control of their medium and speaking directly to an audience they know.
We at BST are delighted to have contributed a photo story about legendary pop-up restaurant The Pale Blue Door for the first issue. Fire & Knives is available via subscription from fireandknives.com. Article pitches should be sent to submissions[at]fireandknives[dot]com