Years in print:
New Magazine Springs from Website
By Jeff Stark
Entertainment and restaurant guides have a long history of basing content on which restaurants advertise, and St. Louis’ newest publication – Sauce Magazine – is no different.
Sauce Magazine – which debuted in October – follows Bent Mind Creative Group’s successful website, www.SauceCafe.com. The website is an advertising network, where restaurants pay a monthly fee for Bent Mind to maintain the website, which promotes the member restaurants. Members can have as little as a link to their home page, or as much as several site pages, for a varying fee.
Editor-in-chief Catherine Neville said she thought the costs for the network started around $85 but referred SJR to Allyson Mace, publication coordinator and advertising contact.
“It depends on what services they need. It’s determined by content,” Mace said. She declined further comment, saying, “I don’t think the price is relevant.”
But it is, the group admits. When Bent Mind Creative Group, a full-service design house, started the website more than three years ago, they thought the “Sam’s Club” approach was the only way to maintain profitability..
“Look at the demise of the dot-coms,” Neville said. “They were relying on banner ads for revenue in order to be able to pay writers, designers, etc. Rather than relying on banner ads, we decided to do something different, like a monthly subscription, to make restaurants part of the Sauce network.”
And the success of the online site – both Neville and Mace are working full-time for the group when, for a few years before, both worked a full-time job elsewhere and part-time at Bent Mind – led to the development of the print version.
“We moved to print because we really wanted to expand what we’re offering our readers,” Neville said.
The print version varies significantly from the online site. Only two items are reprinted from the website – a shorter version of Joe Pollack’s restaurant review called “Gourmet Guru,” and Steve Smith’s “St. Louis Scene” bar reviews.
Two sections, though, include only restaurants that are network members – “Bill of Fare” and “Credible Edibles” list menus and recipes respectively, from member restaurants only. Those network members also receive a free 1.75 inch square ad in Sauce. If they want a bigger ad, the cost of the free ad is deducted from the cost of the size they’re buying.
But Neville firmly denies any influence over editorial content.
“It was a calculated risk on our part,” Neville said. “If someone doesn’t get a fabulous review and they’re a client of ours, they can pull the ad – but that’s something we’ll deal with.
“We do exist to promote the restaurants as best we can,” Neville continued, “but if we don’t have readership that trusts our reporting, then the magazine is just a big advertisement. [Reviews] are uninfluenced by advertising.”
The group is thinking of expanding “Bill of Fare” and “Credible Edibles” to include non-member restaurants as well.
Reviewers – Joe Pollack and Steve Smith – pay for their own meals and are compensated in their payment for the story. At no time, Neville stressed, are reviewers told what to think.
“That’s not connected in any way to advertising,” she said. “It’s totally up to them. Reviews are totally independent. We don’t ask for a good review for anybody.”
There are 10 departments in Sauce Magazine, ranging from recipes and reviews to features and chef interviews. Sections include “District,” a guide to all the restaurants in a particular neighborhood and “Provisions,” which features neighborhood grocery stores as alternatives to the big chains.
“We wanted to promote small, independent grocers,” Neville said. “There’s so many more places to get food than Schnucks, Shop ‘n’ Save and Dierbergs.”
“Mixer” reviews a bar while providing a drink recipe, and “Chef Talk” wants to know what St. Louis chefs are thinking about.
The magazine debuted in October with a circulation of 20,000, and is distributed in more than 180 locations.
Free-lancers are 18 – 20 cents per word, Neville said.
(Originally published in the St. Louis Journalism Review 11/2001).