On Friday I received the second edition of Crush!, “South Africa’s finest digital food & wine magazine”, says the e-mail providing the link.  To make sure one knows how good it is, it promises “yet more brilliance for you in this issue” – that is if you thought that the first issue was brilliant!   I did not think it was, and wrote a blog post about Crush1, which respected food and wine guru and Crush! editor Michael Olivier was not happy about, but I am happy to see that he has taken note of some of the feedback (we did invite Michael to comment, but he declined).   Crush!2 is much improved, but it is not there yet.  Let me tell you why:

1.   The cover design of Crush!2 is much better, with barely any distracting design features on it – it reflects the best story of the issue, a wonderful chocolate spread, with the most beautiful photography.

2.   On the “editorial page” Michael’s face is covered by the play button of the video again.  The video was shot in Sophie Lindop’s kitchen while she was preparing the Chocolate article, he says in the video, and one can hear the ‘kitchen clanging’ in the background.   I could only get the video to run halfway, and then it broke off abruptly.  I re-tried it numerous times.

3.  Michael has addressed the feedback about providing details of his editorial team (the button for it being very subtle), and a block can be opened to read this detail - Petaldesign is the design company, with Matthew Ibbotson the Art Director, and Graham van de Ruit responsible for Flash animation.   The Crush! team is thin, it being mainly Michael and his wife on the editorial side, with guest input from JP Rossouw, David Cope and Andy Fenner.   The block is so small that one struggles to read all the names.

4.   A “How to Use this digital magazine” block is welcome, but contains numerous symbols that one must remember to be able to read the digital magazine more effectively.

5.   The magazine has grown to 36 pages, and the multi-page Lindt Chocolate feature is wonderful, proving that the content does not have to be crammed onto one page, which happens on the “Michael Says” page.  On this page, there are 3 book reviews, a focus on a Vineyard dog, “Michael’s Wine Finds”, a focus on Lynne and John Ford of Main Ingredient, and a “Wine Myth”, despite there being numerous other wine pages on which the wine stories could have been featured.

6.   Advertiser support by Old Mutual, Pick ‘n Pay, Pongracz, Arabella Wines, and the Paranga/Zenzero/Kove/Pepenero group has been retained, with new ads for Welgemoed, Arumdale and an advertorial for Spier.  Michael has assured me that Pick ‘n Pay is not the owner of the magazine.

7.   On the “Essentials” page one cannot read the labels on the Dalla Cia Grappa, NoMu and Morgenster Extra Virgin Olive Oil packs, making pack recognition difficult.   If you click onto the packs, they are a little bigger.  A green i-sign provides more information.  When one has clicked on a section to blow up the size, it does not guide one as to how to reduce the size again, so one has to click to a previous page to get back on the page one was on, making this repeat process tedious over time.

8.   The Spier double-page advertorial is weak, in being an illustration of the Spier estate.  One assumes that if one clicks onto each of the “noticeboards”, that one can obtain information.  If, however, one has opened one such information block, and not closed it, one cannot open the next block.    The worst problem about this page is the dominant Uwe Koetter competition announcement, which clashes with the Spier promotion.

9.   The brand names of the wines presented with the recipe for Vegetable Cauliflower Cream Soup are unreadable, with the exception of Glen Carlou.  When one clicks onto the “Rollover” flash, it enlarges the packs a little, but does not make the labels more readable.   Once again, when one has enlarged the labels to such an extent that one can read them, one cannot get back to the full page, and has to go ‘backwards’ to get back to where one was.  A different recipe is matched to each brand of wine when one moves the mouse over it.  However, the Glen Carlou recipe rollover provides no details about serving numbers, difficulty of preparation, and prep and cook times.

10.   The “JamieWho?” page is really odd, in that Michael is clearly trying to add a younger and more hip touch to Crush!.  Blogger Andy Fenner, who recently “outed” himself as being “JamieWho?”, when he relaunched his blogsite, has almost two pages to himself, with his branding in the centre.  As an ueber-brand and marketing conscious person, I am sure he must be shocked at the presentation of his page, with the funny petal-shaped buttons, inviting readers to read his La Mouette review, his muesli recipe, his visits to L’Avenir and Delaire Graff (very disappointing short one-paragraph summaries), and a lovely feature on Roxanne Floquet, the “Queen of Cakes”.  I am not sure if the thousands of readers Michael claims his magazines go to will know who “JamieWho?”/Andy Fenner is, and will be impressed by his involvement.

11.  The “High Five” wine page has the same problem with label readability, as described above.

12.  The “Eating Out” page is interesting in that it is prominently branded with JP Rossouw’s name over two pages, but has a flash in the top right corner saying “The Foodie Fast Eats”, which is a short write-up by “The Foodie” (see below) of the Sunrise Chip ‘n Ranch (I did not pick up that there were mini write-ups about Jardine’s Bakery and Cookshop too, until alerted to these).  However, “The Foodie” has his own pages in the magazine elsewhere.   A review of Johannesburg-based DW Eleven-13 by Rossouw is of no interest to Cape Town readers, probably making up a large proportion of the magazine subscribers.   A competition block blocks the readability of the restaurant review.   At the bottom of the page it mentions four restaurants under the heading “Crush also liked”, listing Blue Water Cafe, Wild Woods, Casa Labia and Foodbarn (the name of this restaurant is barely visible), with only a telephone number and address, but no review, or summary about what these restaurants stand for.  One is not sure if they are recommended by JP or by Michael.

13.  The “Quaff Now” and “Cellar for Later” wine pages have the same problems with pack recognition and branding, but a neat label at each bottle helps one to identify each brand name.  One wonders why this approach is not used throughout the magazine to assist one in reading the pack names, rather than using so many different design styles.  An Old Mutual information block seems out of place on this page, other than to communicate that Old Mutual encourages one to drink a lot, with an inevitable outcome, requiring insurance cover!

14.   The “Quick & Delicious” page has recipes for a week ahead, nicely presented as ‘recipe cards’.   But the content is blocked in part by a block asking if one has subscribed.

15.   As stated above, the “4 Ways with Chocolate” feature is fantastic, with mouth-watering photography by Russel Wasserfall.  One wonders why Russel does not do all the photography for Crush!

16.  By contrast to the “JamieWho?” pages, “The Foodie”‘s pages are a disappointment – “The Foodie” does not receive the same branding and identity treatment compared to that of his friend Andy Fenner, and his pages look more messy and unfocused.  What is a huge surprise is that “The Foodie” is outed as being David Cope, an identity which David has been at great pains to protect.  David’s blog “The Foodie” does not even identify his surname!   David works at a PR agency, and writes for such clients as the Chef’s Warehouse and Cookery School.   He, like Andy Fenner, likes to hang out at &Union, and one wonders if Michael’s readers have heard of ”The Foodie”.   He writes about a Houseboat stay at Langebaan and has a recipe for making “Perfect Guacomole”.  I wonder why Michael has chosen two “man’s men” bloggers to contribute to Crush! when there are many talented (lady) food bloggers who may have far greater credibility and be of greater interest to the readers of Crush!

17.  Crush!2 was sent out early on Friday, a bad day of the week for distributing newsletters, and getting them read.   This is evident by the few comments made about it on Twitter (many Twitter users read their Tweets on their phones, and Blackberry and iPhone do not support Adobe Flash required to open the magazine on their phones).  Also, Crush! does not appear to have editorial deadlines - Crush!1 was a month late in being launched, and this edition was published 7 weeks thereafter, not at the beginning of a month, if it is meant to be monthly or bi-monthly.

My overall impression: the “style over substance” approach to this digital magazine will not win it loyal readers – if only the style were good - and that has huge potential to improve.  Its “journalism” is light-weight,  and as someone said to me: ”this is not an online magazine  – it is a picturebook”!  Harsh words, but perhaps he is right.  Crush!2 says it is “Food & Wine with Passion” – the passion is there, but the execution is not yet!

Once again, I invite Michael to comment, which I am more than happy to post.  Read Crush!2

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