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?