Five links on Friday – 16 September 2016

Cooking Show Name Generator

Over the last month, some desperate TV exec has been googling for “Cooking Show Name Generator” and landing on my site, only to be disappointed by my most popular post, The Billy Bragg Safeword Generator. Just in case you’re not in need of a safe word, generate yourself a new cooking reality show by pressing the button.


Why do restaurants fail?

For a few years I’ve been mulling over whether to start a restaurant deadpool because there are obvious signs that places will fail before they have torn the butcher’s paper down from their windows to reveal their fresh circus-themed French diner fitout. The most obvious is if a string of restaurants have already failed in the same location.

Outside of the obvious (having poor operations management and a lack of financial knowledge), Parsa et al look at the demographic reasons behind restaurant failure in Boulder, Colorado and specifically looked at what they call “the phenomenon of “fatal attraction””: where restaranteurs move in to a previously failed property. Their findings:

Our data from Boulder indicate that the fatal attraction limit is reached after the third ownership turnover, and restaurants are no longer considered for the fourth ownership turnover. Thus, one can conclude that restaurant ownership turnover at a particular site could happen up to a maximum of three times, after which it is likely that the location would cease to function as a choice for restaurateurs and be converted to a non-restaurant business site.

As for success factors: being located near transient university students, apartment dwellers, the well-educated and low- to middle income families. Maybe this explains the longevity of venues on Lygon St?

Parsa, H.G., van der Rest, J.P.I., Smith, S.R., Parsa, R.A. and Bujisic, M., 2015. Why Restaurants Fail? Part IV The Relationship between Restaurant Failures and Demographic Factors. Cornell Hospitality Quarterly, 56(1), pp.80-90.

The best time to start blogging is now.

The Flickr Curve.

Something I discovered pretty early on in managing social media is that the lifecycle of most social media channels follow the Flickr curve. There is the same shape to search volume on Google over time: 3 years of growth followed by slow decline.

Even successful ones, like Facebook

They do so for different reasons. Flickr boomed and died, Facebook boomed and then moved into an app. Nobody is googling for the Facebook login page any more because they’re always already logged in on their phone (and every other device). With the benefit of hindsight, search behaviour for any social network looks cyclical. At the time, you have no idea where on the curve any social network is.

There’s weirdo outliers like tumblr. You should buy tumblr and work out why.

Blogging has followed a similar trend with an imaginary golden age from 2004 to 2007 followed by a slow decline.

Visits from Google once mattered for blogs and now it’s much harder to reach those people who no longer search for blogging as a genre. The search engine has recently announced that it prefers to show restaurant reviews from “reputable publishers” rather than from smaller fry which is as good as a death knell for small review blogs.

Blogging (and especially food and travel blogging) has returned to the state where it is as unpopular as it once was when I started a decade ago for three reasons and it’s both amazing and kind of shit.

Tone-deaf

As the mainstream food and travel media has collapsed in on itself, the mainstream blogging that has replaced it is as tone-deaf as before. Half the fun of my early days of blogging in Cambodia was taking the piss out of travel journalists parachuting in for the weekend, who filed the same food story about spiders and then retreated to cooler climes. Now journalists can no longer afford a parachute and land on the ground in a fine pink mist, the food and travel bloggers that have filled the airspace are more amoral than simply misunderstanding the cultures they cover.

Whether it’s video-blogging on behalf of the North Korean government or the Thai military junta, we’re left with as Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson puts it

…content creators so determined to deliver an upbeat, brand-friendly message that the uncomfortable truths of the world—personal and political—go mind-bogglingly, witlessly ignored.

This is where we were a decade ago.

Nobody is going to make any money

In the medium- to long term, there’s only three ways to make decent money out of writing your own blog posts without using it to bring in links to some other business.

These are:

  1. Gather a team with an obsessive focus on a single vertical (e.g. Skift, Digiday, Food52, Lucky Peach) and build something that looks literally nothing like personal blogging.
  2. Con other bloggers to work for you for free (e.g. Huffington Post, Medium, tumblr).
  3. Con other bloggers into believing that they too can make money with their blogs and then sell them ebooks/courses/nomadic lifestyle.

If you get in now and aren’t prepared to do any of those things, it’s for the love of the game and not to make any form of remuneration. Around ten years ago there was no real expectation that any money could be made from it until people started posting $100,000 cheques from Google, and then expectations began to change. There’s a chance that blogging will never again be profitable which leaves the field open to the committed amateur.

The end of the blog influencer market

Even though I’m a firm believer that influencer marketing does next to nothing for most food and travel businesses, the last five years has seen a change in the way that businesses measure the initial value of influencers. Now, businesses look at their social media following first and not their written work on their own sites which ends the market for blog influence.

If you’re the sort of person who wants to be Instagram-famous and wallow in the spoils that come with that fame then you’re no longer likely to be evaluated by your blog, because you don’t have one. This has the positive effect on blogging in that it keeps image-obsessed wankers away from writing more witless listicles and instead focussed on which VSCO filter to use. It’s like watching the shallow end of the pool recede in favour of the depths.

Early on, bloggers never expected to be influential because there was a fair expectation that nobody would read your blog. Most of the time, nobody did. Now they’re no longer seen as influential because businesses have picked a different arbitrary and pointless metric to value online work.

The conditions of the early-2000s are back. Nobody looks for blogs actively. There’s a mounting ressentiment with the state of food and travel media. There is zero chance that bloggers will earn any money or wield any degree of influence.

I used to tell people that the best time to start a blog was ten years ago when the conditions were identical. I’m beginning to think the best time to start is now.

Five links on Friday – 8 August 2016

  1. “Every coffee place looks the same,” Schwarzmann says. The new cafe resembles all the other coffee shops Foursquare suggests, whether in Odessa, Beijing, Los Angeles, or Seoul: the same raw wood tables, exposed brick, and hanging Edison bulbs.”: Kyle Chayka takes on the creeping sameness spread by the global middle-class.
  2. On the “bourgeois nostalgia” that pervades the food-reform movement.
  3. If you’re the sort of person left unimpressed by a backyard pizza oven, then it’s time to build a compost-powered hot tub.
  4. The plan of two spies in the 1910s to solve America’s food crisis with hippopotamus meat.
  5. Legendary film critic Roger Ebert’s deep love for the rice cooker

Five links on Friday – 15 July 2016

  1. Inside the underground economy propping up New York’s food carts
  2. Continuing my weekly coverage of food from the bogs, here’s how juice companies perpetuate the myth that cranberry juice prevents urinary tract infection.
  3. The history of food poisoning.
  4. Japan’s oldest single malt whisky has been released.
  5. Ruth Reichl admits that the timing in a delicious meatball recipe is pure fiction.. Nothing is sacred.