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Reader Generated Issue

The August issue of olive magazine was reader generated! Editor Christine Hayes explains what this means and how they went about achieving it.

By Christine Hayes

olive’s readers are always at the heart of everything we do, but with our August edition – our first ever reader-generated issue – I think we have truly transported the reader from front-of-mind to front-of-page.

Every month we rely on our readers to help make olive relevant to them, with a panel of more than 1,000 readers feeding back on the magazine. This can be from recipes they rate and slate, recommendations on where to eat and drink in their local area, and finding readers to challenge our professional critic's opinion in our monthly restaurant review, Pro vs punter.

During the recession, our close involvement with readers has enabled us swiftly to adapt the magazine to their changing needs. Even though olive has one of the highest AB readerships of any magazine, our extensive reader analysis has shown us that readers want to see more value, and an awareness of the economic climate, reflected in our content. This knowledge has helped us subtly to adapt the magazine to reflect this need, a strategy that has paid dividends – our rise in circulation has bucked the wider trend.

Following a special meet-the-reader evening, when we invited a group of readers into the olive office and kitchen, our food director, Lulu Grimes, came up with the idea of an entirely reader-generated issue. A fantastic idea in theory, but how could we go about this task?

The first challenge was to work out to what extent we would allow readers to influence the content of the magazine. Decision-making can be tough enough with an editorial team of 12, never mind involving every reader that wanted to take part. We obviously needed to work out parameters that would keep the task achievable while still delivering what readers had come to expect from the magazine. All this at the same time as ensuring we weren’t just paying lip-service to the idea.

Some areas of the magazine proved easier than others. We asked readers to send in their favourite show-off recipes, and were then able to test them in the olive kitchen before whittling the entries down to the top five. In other sections, such as our popular 'Seven meals for £35', where readers really do rely on our expertise, we asked readers to rate the recipes before publication so we could publish their feedback within the feature. We were also able to involve the readers in deciding what our celebrity chefs should cover. To make Matt Tebbutt's seasonal food section interactive, we asked readers to vote on which ingredients they’d most like to see him use in his recipes.

As well as recipes, olive is well known for its restaurant reviews. Readers are always telling us about their favourite local restaurants, so we wanted to use their insider knowledge in the issue as well. Our call for suggestions was met with a huge response, and it required hours of work to filter down the hundreds of entries to just 10 we knew would meet our readers’ high standards.

We also included our 30 best ever recipes in an attached booklet. This was much easier to measure as the information is available from – where all of our recipes are already rated by online users – this is a great example of how the internet can act as an opportunity to influence content rather than be off-putting.

After nine months in conceptualising, planning and execution, we finally got there, and I'm really proud of the result. I think it's the confidence we have in our readers that stands us in such good stead in today's tough magazine marketplace – something that is reflected in our continued circulation success. Every editor will talk about the need to have a reader-centred approach, but I believe, with olive's reader issue, we have taken this to another level.