Thanks so much to the 6188 people who responded to my survey that I launched at the beginning of August, before taking a summer break. (Which I wrote about in my September newsletter.) I’m back in the saddle, so to speak, and I thought I’d share some of the results with you.
There’s been a huge shift in blogs over the last decade. Most of the people that started them from way-back-when have stopped, and food blogs went from being someone at home interested in cooking, sharing the recipe for what they had for dinner or dessert, to elaborate websites created by techies (not foodies, a word I don’t use but seems apropros here) with recipes and text written specifically in language that can be read by Alexa or Google Nest and formatted for search engines, rather than people.
I’ve always posted recipes that interested me, everything from Plum Kernel Oil Ice Cream and Lamingtons, to Chocolate-Dulce de Leche Brownies and Meatball Sandwiches, which I suddenly had a craving for one day. Interestingly, the day after I posted the Meatball Sandwiches, I ran into an American woman in Paris who said she had exactly the same craving at the same time which was funny to hear. Over the years the blog has gently shifted from personal stories and Paris restaurant and bakery tips, to recipes. To be honest, this was never intended to be a recipe blog; the recipes that appeared were often adjuncts to things that I was interested in talking about.
The blog evolved to being more recipe-laden, and whatever story I want to tell is attached or related to a recipe I present. Lately my interests have leaned towards French spirits after writing a book about them, which I’ve been interspersing with regular recipes since not everyone drinks. (Although with the recent confinement, some cities have reported a 42% increase in drinking.) Drinking French became a best-seller, so I appreciate everyone who picked up a copy and who followed along with me as I made drinks on my Instagram Live Apéro Hours, or made them at home for friends, neighbors, and family, which brought people together during this difficult time.
I recently hit some snags, stumped and intrigued, about what direction the blog should be going in after writing it twenty years. Comments on recent recipes focused on changing the recipe substantially. I put quite a bit of effort developing a recipe and publishing a recipe; it takes me about 3-5 days to create a blog post, with shopping for ingredients, making the recipe, and re-making it again, sometimes two or three times if it needs tinkering with, taking photos, formatting and coding it for the internet, checking metric conversions, writing a story to go along with the recipe, editing and uploading photos, etc. After, I like to hop into the comments to answer questions, as well as those on social media. I wrote a little more about that, down below, after the survey results, but here are some of the responses and results of the survey:
[Note that survey responses and numbers have been condensed and rounded off for clarity.]
-33% of you have been reading the blog for 3-5 years, 30% have been reading it for 6 to 9 years, and 17.5% have been reading the blog for 9 to 20 years.
-73% have left a comment on the blog and 94% have made a recipe from it.
-In terms of popularity, the most popular recipes (in order of popularity) are Fruit Desserts, Cakes, French food, Cookies, Chocolate desserts, Soups, Bars and brownies, Salads, Cocktails, and Ice creams and sorbets. While French food remains the most popular cuisine, many make the Middle Eastern recipes (28%) and 12-15% of respondents have made one or more of the recipes that are Mexican or Asian.
-42% of respondents use cups and tablespoons, 20% use metric measurements, and 40% go with a combination of both. I’ve been wrestling with what to do about writing in two systems of measurements. I’ve been hoping we could all settle on one system of measurement since it’s double the work for us recipe-writers and cookbook authors (and doubles the chance of making a goof), so any suggestions on how to make that happen, I’m all ears!
-78% of you have bought one of my books (thank you!) with the most purchased being My Paris Kitchen (66%), with The Sweet Life in Paris (53%) coming in second and L’Appart (47%) third. My new book Drinking French has only been out for five months, but it’s nice to see that 28% of you have bought it. 38% responded that they have a copy of The Perfect Scoop.
-An interesting question that’s come up over the years is moving the blog to a subscription-based model. I’ve never really been keen to do it for a variety of reasons. One is that I like the “free” nature of the internet and since I don’t have a staff, except for Emily (who just had a second baby and is renovating her apartment, so she’s left me high-and-dry for a while…sniff sniff…) nor do I have to rent an office, my expenses aren’t as steep as a newspaper or magazine.
That said, I have a newsletter and mailing service ($379/month), a server where the blog is stored (which I’m updating and improving this month so the site loads faster for readers), a web developer who handles design and tech issues, and another web service that works on web security and server issues. I’ve done my best to keep ads to a minimum and don’t have pop-ups or auto-play videos, etc., which are quite lucrative but aren’t in line with what I think provides a good reader experience, so I’ve opted out of those. Occasionally one sneaks in, though, which I sometimes can’t see as they are geo-tagged.
16% of respondents said they would pay a subscription fee while 34% said nope, and 51% clocked in with a definite “maybe.” $20/year ($1.60/month) was the most popular price with 63% saying they’d pay that, with 26% saying that $29/year ($2.40/month) would be okay, but only 8% said they would pay $39/year ($3.25/month.)
Some responses as to why or why not:
“I want free things. I can’t pay for subscriptions”
Limited or fixed incomes.
“Too many subscriptions”
“I’d rather spend the money on one of your books!”
“There are a lot of free blogs”
“Your recipes are well-researched and I am happy with the results”
“I would rather it be free and you put advertisements on it”
“You’re worth it”
“Producing content is work and work gets compensated”
“Excellent recipes and good writing”
Those are just a handful of the 4000 people who responded to that question. I, too, wrangle with subscribing to websites. I want people to get paid for their work and am happy to pay for things (I subscribe to two newspapers online) but some outlets have stories and articles that I may only read two or three times a month, and it’s a lot of keep track of and to pay for. I wish there was a way to subscribe to all the food sections of the major newspaper for one fee and they somehow could split it all. Another would be if someone created an online wallet, where if you wanted to read an article, or get a recipe, a specific sum would be taken out of that wallet to pay for it.
-When I asked how many people read my newsletter, 77% said they signed up to get my newsletter with a surprisingly wide swath of the 875 respondents saying that they didn’t know I had one. Fyi: There is a sign-up form in the sidebar and at the end of every blog post
(You can also subscribe here. It comes out once a month on the 1st, it’s free, and you can unsubscribe at any time using the link at the bottom of it.)
-Things have changed as to how people keep up with blogs and get notified of when they are updated. Back in the old days, most of us used RSS feeders to keep tabs on when new blog posts were updated. Now a lot of people depend on social media updates from bloggers to learn when a new post is published. So many of us with blogs, as well as those of us who read blogs, rely on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, and spend a fair amount of time letting readers know when a blog post or recipe has been published. That’s been a major shift for those of us with blog.
61% of you have signed up to get recipes and blog posts sent to you by email when they are published. Like the newsletter, a lot of people said they didn’t know there was that option. I used to feel that I didn’t want extra email(s) coming into my Inbox, but that’s shifted and now I love getting updates from my favorite blogs directly without having to worry about the Facebook algorithm deciding whether or not I’ll see a blog post or update. So I subscribe by email to blogs and newsletters, which assures that I hear from who I want to.
(You can sign up to receive blog posts by mail here.)
78% of respondents follow me on Instagram, 39% on Facebook, 10% on Twitter, and 8% on Pinterest. A mere 0.4% hangers-on are following me on Flickr, which I hang on to for nostalgic reasons. Curiously, it’s the only one that charges me to use it.
-Lastly, 3300 responded to my request for any other feedback. To be honest, the next time I am having a bad day, I’ll read those again. Everyone was super positive and very encouraging. With so many things becoming contentious over the last few years, I don’t usually use the word “heartwarming” very often, but it is heartwarming to see a lot of optimism and kindness in the world. So thank you very much!
A few more thoughts…
-One of the very nice commenters said, “I love this casual seeming blog, although I know it takes preparation.” I’m always grateful when people are kind and friendly to each other, and me. Another commenter mentioned typos which they were happy to overlook as they are bound to happen when you write so much and so often. That’s why when you write a book you have an editor, copy editor, and then a proofreader look over the book before it goes to press. Even then, though, things get missed. I tried working with an editor on the blog who has a keen eye, but it added more work (and time) for me, and I decided that it was just too much. I like writing books and the blog for different reasons, so treat them each differently. This is more of an online diary in the spirit of the original web-log, or blog.
I made a comment on Instagram lately, when someone apologized for a typo in her comment (I’m always surprised that people have the time and gumption to copy edit comments…and even hashtags!) I replied, “Typos mean that you have better things to do.” We all make ’em and it’s fine to point them out, nicely of course, but in spite of reading and re-reading some blog posts a gazillion times (I recently saw that I revised one particular post 74 times before publishing it), they still creep in.
-In the last few dessert recipes I posted, a majority of the comments were about reducing the sugar. I don’t use a lot of sugar in my recipes. I am reading a cookbook of recipes from women French chefs from the 1970s and many of the dessert recipes have 2 to 2 1/2 cups sugar, which seems substantial. And I noted in the homemade Infusions chapter in Drinking French that older recipes for crèmes and other fruit infusions often had nearly as much sugar as liquor! I cut all those down a lot, for modern tastes. But sugar was once a luxury in France so it was used extravagantly.
When I develop a recipe, I do so keeping in mind using the minimum amount of sugar (and fat) that I can get away with, to get results that I’m happy with. I don’t love overly sweet things (except Kouign Aman), and I add enough sugar to cakes and cookies to get the right moisture and texture (and sweetness) that I am looking for, and to ice cream and sorbet to keep it from freezing too hard. We’ve all seen and read about what can happen to jam when enough sugar isn’t added to it. I am conscientious about how much sugar I use, and eat. And I do often include if you can reduce the sugar or fat in a headnote before a recipe, where warranted.
I’ve been considering pivoting away from presenting dessert recipes since that seemed to become an overwhelming subject of discussion in the comments. The comments are there to ask questions and to share tips, and I’m especially grateful when readers share vegan, high-altitude, or gluten-free variations they’ve tried or know about (thank you!), since those aren’t my areas of specialty, but I don’t want the amount of sugar in every recipe going forward to be a preoccupation.
But I am a baker and like to make and share desserts. Plus I am one of those “everything in moderation” people. I can’t bear to give up bread, cheese, wine, butter, French fries, and Manhattans completely. So to preserve my enthusiasm and continue offering up dessert recipes from time to time, if you are looking for low-sugar dessert recipes, I heartily recommend two books, The Sweet Spot by Bill Yosses and Baking with Less Sugar by Joanne Chang.
-Lastly, 2020 has been a very tough year in so many ways that I am sure most of us will be happy when it’s over. Yet we still have a few months, so let’s make the best of it. On top of everything that’s happened has been the global pandemic, which I hope in the future, someone will read this post and say “What pandemic was he talking about?” meaning it’s something we’ve forgotten about. At the beginning of the pandemic when many of us went into lockdown, I was gratified to see such extraordinary kindness online (and off) and a lot of the rough edges of the internet melted away. But some of them have come back even stronger.
There were scandals and cancellations, firings and misfirings. I’m probably naive to think that most people are doing their best. (I should probably strike “probably.”) But I like to believe it’s true so I’m keeping it in. So let’s all get through 2020 together in good shape…and in good health!