Epicurious - the demo
'Is this the future of magazines?' we asked.

When Matt Handbury bought Australian Multi Media off Melbourne publisher Stephen Moignard, it came with the stipulation that I went along with the deal. I asked Jan who said she was ready for a change, so we moved to Kirribilli .  The story of MM magazine is in another document here, this post is about what I thought was the future of the Murdoch Magazines on the still new web, and how I thought we should consolidate the mostly women’s interest titles into a web brand. American magazines Gourmet and Bon Apétit went on to have their own sites but in 1995 Condé Nast formed CondéNet and started a new web publication called Epicurious.

That may have raised some eyebrows about diluting the existing brand identities, but as an insider I chortled with glee at a way to drag publications online that were resolutely print only. And (mostly ‘womens titles’) only just starting to embrace computers in the process of magazine production. Because the MM print magazine was being retired my brief became wider at Murdoch Magazines. Matt had seen that bringing Australian Multimedia Magazines into the Miller Street North Sydney building was a way to show that the organisation was thinking ahead, and because we were part of the organisational culture (yeah we went to the famous group hug ‘circles’ for a while) we were a strong influence.

Because this was part of a demo we took around to advertising agencies it had to be on disk, there were few internet connections and we carried a modem if needed but connecting was another issue. That is the only reason it has survived today as an archive of the time. It was really a PowerPoint walk-through, just capturing enough pages to show specific ideas. Lots of links I’ve disabled (they just reload the page). There’s a flat version of the recipe search, and no cgi scripts. There’s an * asterisk beside things that are linked, and the footer navigation works to move around and back. It starts with a choice of whether you want a slower loading  image based version or a text one if you had a slow modem. (I’ve combined some image pages in the text version path because I know you have better than a 14.4k modem). The screen size was intended for 640 x 480 so I’ve set the window for that. It might look funny on a small phone screen so turn it horizontal.

The Wayback Machine at the Internet Archive didn’t start saving Epicurious until November 1996 a year after this, you can see that here. By then we’d started to make individual sites for the publications, starting with Better Homes & Gardens.

What strikes me now (along with the convoluted html I’d forgotten in putting this together) was the level of puns and humour, something those publications were not known for, especially Bon Apetit which looked very straight. Online there’s smart stuff like this “If you do print out this tool, however, please remember to use it only for peaceful purposes. In the immortal words of Dylan Thomas, “Doughnut, go gentle into that good night.” There was clearly a new style of journalism happening to meet a new readership.

Notice the two ads – for Stoli Vodka and what surprised us for Toyota, who built a full magazine site only slightly car related. For a brief period it was high on our web bookmarks then it shutdown abruptly.  We all argued whether that was a foolish move in the beginning, it was certainly expensive. But it was ‘new publishing’.
Starry eyed, we felt like we were at the front line of the web pioneers.