South Africa’s first digital food and wine magazine Crush! was launched last Friday, a long-awaited online publication under the editorship of respected food and wine guru Michael Olivier.

Olivier studied at the Cordon Bleue Cookery School in London, has done PR for the Lanzerac Hotel, has owned restaurants (Paddagang, Burgundy and Parks), has been a wine consultant to Pick ‘n Pay, has published books (including one called ‘Crush! 100 wines to drink now’), and presents wine programmes on Classic FM and on FMR radio stations.  He announced the launch of Crush! at the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting in May, with an original launch date of 3 June.  The actual publication date was a month later.

Digital magazines have been published in the United Kingdom for a number of years already, but have not made it into South Africa until now due to the lack of ample broadband capacity.   Crush! is published with software bought from Redonline, a British company which publishes GQ, Tesco, FHM and many other digital titles.  It is available for free to what is projected will be just under 1 million readers, and its production is funded by advertising, sponsorships and product placements.  The advertising rates seem reasonable, at a discounted R 7548 for a double page spread for the first three issues.

For me Crush! is a let-down, not only technically, in navigating the 26 pages of the digital magazine, but also in terms of its content:

1.   Its size is smaller than the full screen size, giving the impression of an A5 magazine, something one takes less seriously than an A4 size.

2.  One has to click to the top right hand corner of the right page to turn the pages – it will take some time for one to get used to doing this expertly, without feeling silly in turning the pages efficiently (luckily I saw a “fools’ guide” to turning the pages at the top left, which shows arrows to the right and to the left).

3.  The cover of a magazine is what sells it – I found Crush!’s cover to be unattractive and far too busy, with all sorts of electronic “nick-nacks” to attract one’s attention, seriously lacking a good design hand.

4.  I missed an “Ed’s letter”, in which Michael should explain what Crush! stands for, remind readers of his background and strengths, and detail who is in his editorial and production team.  

5.  Michael does talk on a YouTube video on the third page, but unfortunately the “play” button is on top of his face, a design problem that can easily be addressed.

6.  Crush! has little advertising, but needs advertising support to finance the venture and to pay the royalties to Redonline.  The Pepenero/Paranga/Kove/Zenzero group, Pick ‘n Pay, Old Mutual, Constantia Glen and Pongracz are direct advertisers.   I liked the more subtle advertorial feel of the Arabella wines page.   The double page spread on Warwick is the most attractive of all pages in Crush!, in my opinion, and while I am sure that it is paid-for advertorial, it is the “cleanest” page, with the fewest “gimmicks” and pop-ups of all. 

7.  Given the cost of setting up such a venture, one wonders if it is Pick ‘n Pay financing the venture, given Olivier’s relationship with them.  

8.   Having been earmarked for launch more than a month ago, most of the copy probably was written at that time.  The danger with a delay is that the information gets dated, and the page written by JP Rossouw is dated in two respects – JP Rossouw’s image has been seriously dented by the reaction to his La Mouette review (read here).  Olivier would have done better to write the page himself.   Secondly, Rossouw chose to focus on La Colombe, and Luke Dale-Roberts, just 2 days after the La Colombe chef announced that he is no longer the Executive Chef of the San Pellegrino Top 50 Restaurant in the World restaurant!  Ironically, it was Rossouw that alerted the industry to this news, but the information about Luke Dale-Roberts’ relationship with La Colombe was not updated in the two days before launching the publication.  The fact that Rossouw’s Restaurants book is offered for sale on the page commercialises the page and reduces its credibility even further.  When entering the La Colombe competition, I lost the link to the page I was on, and had to go back to the Homepage, and run through all the pages again.   In the running link it mentions, amongst others, that JP Rossouw has reviewed La Colombe, but there is no review!  The next issue of Crush! is to feature a review of a Johannesburg restaurant – while I understand that Crush! is a national publication, reviews about restaurants in other areas have little interest for Cape Town readers, a weakness Rossouw faces with his on-line reviews too.

9.   Alongside a recipe for Salmon Fishcakes, as well as on the “High Five” wine page, the labels of the bottles of the wine options suggested are unreadable.  One is encouraged to click onto each bottle to “roll it over”, but it only pops up with information about that particular wine. 

10.   A profile of Chef Liam Tomlin of the Chef’s Warehouse and Cookery School is disappointing, in that little information is provided on the page, which mainly is filled with a photograph of Tomlin.  If one clicks on a small “interview” button, Tomlin’s answers to a set of questions are provided, hardly giving one a feel for the character and personality of Tomlin, nor of his background. 

11.   Every page has a running script at the top, a little like on SkyNews and other news television stations, distracting one’s attention from the main body of the page.  

12.  The “back’ page refers to an Uwe Koetter competition, and it is not immediately clear that one does not have to do anything to stand a chance to win jewellery.

In general I found Crush! to be too superficial in that it lacks depth; it is too “thin” in terms of number of pages compared to a regular magazine; it is too hard-sell in encouraging one to buy wines via ‘Crush Cellar’ which takes one to Grapefuel, travel (never heard of Pick ‘n Pay having a travel agency), and Rossouw’s book; and it is too “busy” in terms of pop-ups, running messages and buttons one has to click to read further information.  Ultimately, a digital magazine cannot compete with a glossy printed one.  It cannot be kept for future reference, it cannot be displayed on a coffee table, one cannot tear a page out of it, and it does not offer 100 pages or so of reading joy in bed, which a magazine can do.

To read Crush!, click here.  Twitter: @Crush_online

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com