Monday, September 21, 2009

10 Reasons I'm Letting My Subscription to Cook's Illustrated Lapse

The beautiful hand drawings on the back covers of Cook's Illustrated sealed it for me. I'll miss those wonderful back cover drawings - varieties of flat breads including not just pita, naan and lavosh, but Ethiopian injera too. These were real foodies! Root vegetables on the back of another issue. Pumpkins, plain and unusual on a third. I'd gotten serious about food, and Cook's Illustrated was the magazine. CI was smart, food erotica, especially compared to that advertising-packed food pron of Bon Appetit.

Cook's Illustrated is an excellent source of information: recipes with more than a tip or two; in depth coverage of preparation and explanations of why things turn out the way they do. I found a trial offer and was very satisfied except for that minor issue when I paid to continue my subscription. It was such a minor issue. It should have stayed that way.

They had no record of my check. It had cleared my bank. Sorry. They needed proof. I sent a pdf file with an image of the front and back of the check showing their endorsement. Sorry. Can't open the file. I sent a Word document with the front and back of the check showing their endorsement. Sorry. Can't open the file. Finally, I pasted in a copy of the front and back with their endorsement into the body of the message. I emailed from home and work so I knew it wasn't just my personal email. The issue was resolved and I subsequently received two copies of each issue. I didn't bring it up.

Over time I began to find other annoyances. Nothing outrageous. Just annoyances and enough of them to finally let the subscription lapse before true bitterness set in, the reasons:

1. Spam. CI makes money selling their books, other mags (there's a Cook's Country) and the combination to the vault of their wealth of knowledge. Like Consumer Reports, they don't make money on advertising. The horse's mouth kept telling me about how good the goods are. I didn't need to hear of new offers of the repackaged forms.

2. Christopher Kimball. If you subscribe, you know what I'm talking about. Every issue, every newsletter, every book has his smug, bow-tied, bespeckled image all over it. My college president has the same problem. Enough.

3. The aforementioned check.

4. The obsession with superlatives. For example, the September & October 2009 included "Best Italian Meat Sauce" and "How to Brew Perfect Coffee." It's become a tired template, "We set out to find the best ... using 50 ovens ... baking over a gajillion ... Find a new model.

5. Our way is the only way. Hand in hand with the "best" problem (see #4), variation is not a strong suit.

6. Lack of inspiration. Many of their efforts are geared to perfecting recipes that I've had my fill of. The best apple pie is still an apple pie.

7. I get enough mail that I don't read.

8. Christopher Kimball. I know this is the same as #2, but the guy must really have an ego to have his pic plastered everywhere.

9. $25 for 6 issues a year isn't a great deal.

10. I paid for two years, ending in May of 2010, but they started bugging me about renewal in August of 2009. Thanks CI for reminding me so soon about what a pain you are!


John said...

I didn't mind their talking about "The Best __________" since they usually would detail what they were looking for. Add to that the fact that they tell you what each change did to the recipe it gives you ideas for how to change it if you disagree with their definition of "Best".

That said I let my subscription go, too. Substituted on-line access for less than half the price where I can read the current issue, look through articles in past issues, search their entire recipe database, etc. A lot more convenient than sorting through the pile of magazines.

I know that there are a lot of recipe sites out there that are free, but it's nice to search for a recipe and find two or three you KNOW are going to work instead of 176 that might or might not. (I've come across too many insane/stupid/just-plain-bad ones.)

That said, with the number of cookbooks on my shelf, the online subscription may also be allowed to lapse. We'll see how soon I start getting renewal reminders for that.

Bruce Harrington said...

CI does offer recipe security - I'm working on a piece about how I got burned following an au gratin recipe that tasted like bad mac & cheese (substitute spuds for mac).

I also have a huge shelf of time-tested authors and recipes. I'll take my chances elsewhere.

Thanks for the comments.

tangaloor said...

If you're looking for an intelligent food magazine, try out the Art of Eating. Wonderful!
Personally, I find Gastronomica too post-modern, and Petits Propos Culinaire is a bit too "out there" for most folks, but charming.