Has Food Blogging Jumped the Shark?

Marge Simpsons' Sous Vide Turkey

It finally happened: Marge, Bart, and Lisa created a food blog. It was a brilliant satire in a way that only The Simpsons can do, poking fun at just about every foodie-ism out there.

The episode came right on the heels of the International Food Blogger Conference. There’s also BlogHer Food, TechMunch, Camp Blogaway, Food Buzz Festival, Eat Write Retreat, and a half-dozen others. (I’ve actually started a list - please let me know if I’m missing any!) Many of these conferences are now in their third year, and are already selling tickets for their fourth.

My friend Irvin just did a terrific IFBC wrap-up post on How to Start Food Blogging.  I found myself nodding as I read his “Holy Trinity” of food blogging:  Gorgeous photography? Yep. Wonderful writing? Check. Rock-solid recipes? Absolutely.

Here’s the thing: That’s not nearly enough. Sure, if you started your blog in 2006, it might have been. But now?

Irvin claims that the photography/writing/recipe trifecta is 95% of what determines success in food blogging. Though I completely agree that new bloggers should be focusing almost all of their energy on those areas, getting those three things right is just the foundation.

(To be clear: Irvin’s post was filled with much more excellent advice than just that, and I hope everyone was taking copious notes on what he had to say.)

The trick is that food blogs have become ubiquitous. The Simpsons episode certainly drives that point home — we should definitely sit up and take notice. You’re going to need a heck of a lot more than just those three to stand out from the pack. If we’re all doing the same thing, our days our numbered.

Wikipedia defines “Jump The Shark” as “the moment in its evolution when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery.” (In case you hadn’t heard the term before: It comes from the Happy Days episode in which Fonzie tries to, well, jump a shark, in a failed attempt to bolster their sagging ratings.)

I’m fearful that if we’re all just focusing on food photos, writing, and recipes, we’re going to move “beyond relevance” – particularly as corporations are building recipe websites with huge databases that dwarf our our blogs.

The good news is that the things you need to do on your own site to distinguish yourself from the pack are the very things that are going to save us all from Happy Days’ fate. If you want to stand out to readers as unique and valuable, you have to be, well, unique and valuable. Being creative and contributing in new, exciting, and useful ways will lift all of us and keep us moving forward as a community.

The challenge, then, is to find a way to stand out and to add to the conversation. I believe that every post (and every tweet) should add value. Yes, a recipe is something of value, but at this point, do we really need another recipe for Kale Chips? (Guilty!)  How can you take those kale chips and turn them into something more than kale chips?

Another way to think about this is the simple “Who Cares?” test.  Ask yourself, “Who is going to care about this post?” You should have a good answer before you hit “Publish.”

Every one of us is different, of course, and we should all play to our strengths. I’m not the best recipe developer (not even a good recipe developer), so I don’t actually have that many recipes on Eating Rules. However, I’ve discovered that I’m good at researching a topic and synthesizing the information into a concise and approachable presentation, such as my two-part series on sugar.

Another example? Irvin’s Wordless Recipes. He uses those gorgeous photos to walk the reader through each step of a recipe. In so doing, he’s elevated his recipe above the “typical blog post” by inventing a way to present information in a compelling, enjoyable (and still eminently useful) way. That’s the extra 5%.

We’re approaching a tipping point, and it has the potential to take us in one of two directions. We can go up, lifting each other and our own blogs, continuing to add value to the conversation in our own unique ways. Or we can go down by saturating the market with stale, repetitious posts. I certainly hope we’ll tip in the right direction.

So ask yourself: What is it that can set you and your blog apart? I’m not talking about a gimmick; I’m talking about real, lasting value that you’re going to give to your readers and to the community.

Once you figure that out, your blog will find success – and you’ll help keep us from jumping the shark.

Simpsons screenshot grabbed from this annotated slideshow of the The Simpsons Food Episode.

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21 Responses to “Has Food Blogging Jumped the Shark?”

  1. MyMansBelly November 22, 2011 at 11:23 am #

    Excellent post Andrew! I hope people read this and actually begin implementing this stuff. Not only will this keep the genre from jumping the shark…it will actually make reading blogs fun and interesting. Which is why we want to visit a blog in the first place. If I want to be bored and depressed, I’ll go to one of the billion news sites out there.

  2. Kim November 22, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Brilliant, Andrew. I’m still looking for my angle. Maybe it’s not in food at all… maybe it’s CHICKENS. :-)

    Seriously, tho’ – I too, hope we all figure out how to stand out with our own blogs while supporting one another in the bigger community.

    I struggle with the “who cares” test DAILY…. but I’m workin’ on it.

    [K]

  3. susan November 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    So beautifully written and executed. I have thought a lot about this since IFBC and am getting a clearer picture on what I want to do with sharing my voice. Keep writing these eloquent words!

  4. Geez Louise! November 22, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Great job, “who cares” – sometimes I think if you care that might the key to it… Post from an authentic place, easier said than done.

  5. LiztheChef November 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    I still think it is all about one’s voice, as I keep hearing/reading. Just seems like our voices have to be very unique and special. I’m going to stick with it!

  6. Laura @ Family Spice November 22, 2011 at 2:47 pm #

    If I had known that the market would have been so nuts when I started years ago, I would have taken my blog more seriously! Well said, Andrew!

  7. Lana November 22, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    Congratulations on your second first-born:)
    You make a great point with “who cares?” question. There are so many “MacDonald’s” blogs out there and I am sure that they have their audiences.
    Mine is not an orthodox food blog and I have no idea if that is good or bad for its success. I find pleasure in knowing that people stop by and enjoy my writing (and as Cheryl of 5 Second Rule said at Camp Blogaway, the recipe is the bonus:)
    I have entered food blog writing like an idiot-savant, and it’s been a wonderful experience full of challenges and everyday learning.
    I am grateful to you and so many of my FBLA friends for lending a helpful hand:)
    Looking forward to the next post!

  8. Adrian November 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm #

    Great first post Andrew! I’m so glad you are starting a service for those that need it. It’s also handy that you write your own food blog so you know what people are getting into.

    Looking forward to many more!

    P.s. Simpsons Rule.

  9. Valentina November 22, 2011 at 9:46 pm #

    This is awesome, Andrew! So happy you’re doing this!! And happy to know you! :-)

  10. barbara November 22, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

    As one who started blogging way back (2005) this is a timely post as I consider my options.

  11. Leslie Macchiarella November 23, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    Nicely stated, Andrew. Great post and my favorite Marge photo besides. Your Adding Value mantra is a great one to live by…or blog by, as the case may be. :)

  12. Barbara | Creative Culinary November 23, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    There might be some tipping required and I’m OK with that. Before the plethora of experts that now serve to tell us how to do it, some of us were doing this for one reason. We wanted to share what we loved with other people.

    For some of us; that is still the focus and I firmly believe that is still key to long term success. Hoping for a book deal, focusing on CPM and advertising might work for some, but I think readers still recognize a connection of greater value.

    I read Irwin’s article and I took issue with some of his advice but I bring 17 years of web development experience to the table and with it almost 17 years of putting recipes online; a recipe site was the first one I developed way back in1995. If doing this for fun…do whatever you want. If doing this with expectations of building a professional brand then be prepared for all that entails and it’s a lot.

    I see a large number of people want to make money from blogging but who are not prepared to invest in what that takes. Beyond the enormous time commitment, there is the expense of a decent camera and the skills to use it, knowing how to write not just about food but for the web using your OWN voice and yes, even the expense of a professional web presence. Be realistic…because I firmly believe that when the fallout comes, and it must, not attending to the basics of this ‘profession’ will see you with those falling by the wayside.

  13. Stephanie November 23, 2011 at 10:59 am #

    Great article – food blogging has definitely jumped the shark. Time to think about the next big media outlet!

  14. Jeremy Pepper November 23, 2011 at 9:18 pm #

    Nice one. I have been writing my PR blog for 8 years now but been writing it for myself, and a few friends.

    I started my food blog last year, but it’s more to amuse myself and write about things that I’ve done at conferences. (And sooooo behind). If someone reads it, great. If no one does, meh, that’s okay too. It’s for me, at the end of the day.

  15. Gerry @Foodness Gracious November 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm #

    Andrew, such true words. I am constantly trying to think of a new niche for my blog but it’s very hard as you know. The good thing to know is food will always be there, evolving and changing over time but we have to evolve with it or even better be responsible for the changes,
    Take care…

  16. V November 24, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    very insightful, especially the part about why people would care. I think it should be VALUE adding to the community…. or people around you… or even people that come across it. Great writing!

    Live food and Love food!

  17. rebecca November 25, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    so agree couldn’t have said it better the key is being real and having your own voice :-)

  18. Sippitysup November 28, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    If these are the sorts of discussion you plan for your new baby. You have a real winner and a valuable resource for us all. Thanks, GREG

  19. Steve November 30, 2011 at 11:15 pm #

    Well done. It’s great to hear new voices and view points but it’s astounding how many have already packed it in on the run up to the shark tank.

  20. Gianni | Gianni.tv December 3, 2011 at 9:35 am #

    It’s true. Even doing a regular web cooking show from my kitchen doesn’t seem like enough these days. That’s why I recommend that anyone with a food perspective find a way to engage with their local community. Face to face with actual folks who like what you do. Get involved with related causes that you care about.

    For instance, I just helped rescue a mural done by a local North Beach artist that was going to be destroyed because the restaurant (owned by friends) was closing. It was just re-unveiled last night and will be put in a public space for all to enjoy, and a little piece of Italian-American culture was preserved.

  21. Elizabeth Mars December 9, 2012 at 3:43 am #

    As an avid reader of food blogs for me, it’s all about the recipes and the writer’s perspective on those recipes. While you do need to have good photos the blogs that have over art directed ‘food porn’ photos don’t really engage me. One of my favorite blogs My Little Expat Kitchen posts fantastic photos just using a simple point and shoot camera, her composition is good but it also gives her food a very accessible feel that coupled with recipes and a style of food that I love really makes me want to try and cook them. It is a very crowded blogosphere now but I will always read the blogs that have an individual, authentic voice without too much noisy advertising

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