Williams-Sonoma Gets a `Taste’ of Publishing

Not to be outdone by lifestyle guru Martha Stewart’s foray from magazine publishing to catalogs, San Francisco-based cooking accessories cataloger/ retailer Williams-Sonoma in October launched Williams-Sonoma Taste, a 130-page lifestyle magazine.

Taste editor-in-chief Andy Harris has worked since November 1999 with Williams-Sonoma president Chuck Williams and his team to launch the magazine. But, “Williams-Sonoma has no influence on the editorial direction of the magazine,” Harris says. (Chuck Williams does contribute a column to Taste, however.)

In fact, articles in the debut issue tout olive oils, chocolates, and other products from specialty food marketers other than Williams-Sonoma – although products from the marketer’s flagship title and its Pottery Barn catalog are featured as well. “When we do a story on table settings, for example, we use products that are sourced from all over,” Harris says. “We’re just a regular magazine.”

While Taste bears the Williams-Sonoma brand, San Francisco-based Weldon Owen Publishing, which has published Williams-Sonoma cookbooks, is the publisher. U.K.-based John Brown Publishing also owns a stake in the magazine. The magazine is for sale at Williams-Sonoma stores, as well as at bookstores and newsstands for $5. Harris says no sample magazines were mailed, and subscriptions to the magazine are available at $20 for four quarterly issues. After four quarters, Harris says, the magazine will likely be bumped up to bimonthly publication.

Rather than a straight cooking focus, Taste’s editorial content covers the travel and entertainment lifestyle. “In every issue there will be a travel feature that focuses on the food of the region, since a big part of travel is the food of the culture you’re visiting,” Harris says. Taste also features articles on wine, recipes, and entertaining decor, as do other food and lifestyle magazines such as Gourmet and Saveur.

Catalogs launching magazines is nothing new in the way of brand enhancement, says Sid Doolittle, founding partner of the Chicago-based McMillan Doolittle catalog consultancy. “Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s launched magazines years ago,” Doolittle says. But those magazines eventually folded. “It’s a matter of cost,” he adds. “If business or the economy slows down and you are looking to economize, then you discontinue what isn’t producing.” Still, Doolittle says, “In the world of brand competition, the most important thing is the relationship with your customer. And launching a magazine – even if it is not to sell product – is a relationship-building tool.”

Indeed, building relationships with readers is exactly what Harris has in mind for Taste – and he doesn’t care whether those readers are Williams-Sonoma customers or not: “We’re trying to appeal to all age groups who are inspired by travel, food, and entertaining.”

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