Why David Chang’s Lucky Peach might just be the future of magazine publishing

Who, in these times of massive financial uncertainty and contraction across the entire publishing business, tries to start a magazine? Who then would be crazy enough to make the publication virtually free of advertising while also investing in talented writers, photographers and designers? Let me tell you as an exile from the journalism business, that  it would take a completely lunatic to pull something like this off.

But David Chang, the maverick-in-chief of New York chefs at the moment, has gambled that he can make it work with his new quarterly magazine entitled Lucky Peach.

And after reading the first issue, devoted almost entirely to the subject of ramen, I think Chang has come up with something brilliant here.

I don’t think I’ve torn through a magazine as quickly or as excitedly as I did this one. The writing, especially the long travel narrative of Chang and his co-editor Peter Meehan’s trip through Tokyo trying ramen.

Also, they’ve clearly spent a lot of time getting the magazine to look right, with a modern, cutting edge feel doesn’t scream “THIS IS DESIGNED TO LOOK HARDCORE TO 17-YEAR OLDS!!” in the same way that ESPN Magazine does.

But even the best laid out publication will languish if the writing can’t stand on its own. If issue 1 is any indication, Lucky Peach won’t have this problem. It includes the aforementioned piece by Chang and Meehan, along with a superb three-way dialogue between Chang, Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain, and famed chef Wylie Dufresne of WD~50 in New York on the nature of ambition and what drives creative, talented people away from mediocrity. It’s a conversation that could apply to anyone in any business and it’s utterly engrossing. In addition to that, there is a great piece by Todd Kliman of Washingtonian Magazine on the “problem of authenticity” in cooking. On top of all that, it also has a piece by Ruth Reichl, one of the true “queens” of American food writing and former editor of Gourmet. And crazily enough, the piece she wrote was a brand-by-brand taste test of instant ramen (seriously) and recipes that you can make using instant ramen including ramen cacio e pepe (which will definitely make an appearance on this site once I give it a try ) and ramen crusted skate.

But let me get back to my headline for a moment. I do think that small, less-frequently published, deeply niche publications like Lucky Peach (or The Blizzard, a soccer journal I’ve been enjoying recently) are the future for printed magazines. The internet will handle short-form news and commentary through mainstream sites like Eater and the multitude of local and national blogs. But blogs can’t replicate the kind of tactile or visual experience of a magazine done well. That’s why it’s so important, and noticeable, that Lucky Peach is so visually engaging and even that it’s printed on quality paper. Those “little” things are what distinguishes it from the “disposable” stuff you read for 15 minutes before going in a doctor’s office. New York Times media writer David Carr said the same thing recently when he wrote about the magazine.

If magazines are to survive, they’ll have to become something special, offering heft and a kind of “thing-ness” that gives them value over other ways of consuming text.

So far at least, Lucky Peach has proven that correct by selling out its first printing of 40,000 and a second run of 12,000. If you’re into food, or just into really good writing, I recommend getting your hands on a copy (either via Amazon, or at a well-stocked bookstore) or subscribing for a mere $28.

I hope Lucky Peach can keep it up and, equally importantly, that it serves as a model for where the magazine business needs to go in the future.

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Categories: Commentary, Food

2 Comments on “Why David Chang’s Lucky Peach might just be the future of magazine publishing”

  1. bryontreece
    August 17, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    I love Lucky Peach, and pretty much every other McSweeney’s publication as well (The Believer, The Quarterly, etc.). Great stuff!

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  1. What We’re Reading-Week Of 8.15.11 « - August 19, 2011

    […] Why David Chang’s “Lucky Peach” Might Just Be The Future Of Magazine Publishing […]

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