420: ChatGPT, Substack, and the Changing Landscape of Food Writing with Dianne Jacob

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A photograph of someone typing on a laptop with the title of Dianne Jacob's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast, 'ChatGPT, Substack, and the Changing Landscape of Food Writing.'

This episode is sponsored by Clariti.

Welcome to episode 420 of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast! This week on the podcast, Bjork interviews Dianne Jacob.

Last week on the podcast, Bjork chatted with Anne Mauney. To go back and listen to that episode, click here.

ChatGPT, Substack, and the Changing Landscape of Food Writing

Dianne Jacob has been an expert in the food writing space for twenty years (she literally wrote the book on it!). We were happy to welcome her back to the podcast to chat about the changing landscape of food writing.

In this interview, Bjork and Dianne discuss how AI might alter the food blogging space, and how food bloggers can best position themselves to adapt to these changes. Dianne also shares more about her Substack newsletter, and why she prefers writing for her Substack newsletter to blogging.

Both Bjork and Dianne have been in the food writing space for decades now, and it’s fascinating to hear them discuss what they think the future of food blogging might look like. Don’t miss this episode!

A photograph of a woman sitting on a bean bag chair with a quote from Dianne Jacob's episode of The Food Blogger Pro Podcast that reads "That's where you have a unique advantage... the power of your own strong voice."

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • About Dianne’s professional background in food writing.
  • How the food writing space has changed over the last 20 years.
  • How AI (or machine learning) is changing the food writing space.
  • What she learned from testing ChatGPT’s recipe writing skills.
  • What recipe attribution currently looks like for ChatGPT and Bard.
  • Why your voice matters more than ever in the food blogging space.
  • Why she transitioned from writing a blog to having a Substack newsletter.
  • What she likes about being a content creator on Substack (spoiler alert: no need for SEO!).
  • How Bjork and Dianne think the food blogging space will change in the coming years.


About This Week’s Sponsor

We’re excited to announce that this week’s episode is sponsored by our sister site, Clariti!

With Clariti, you can easily organize your blog content for maximum growth. Create campaigns to add alt text to your posts, fix broken images, remove any broken links, and more, all within the Clariti app.

Sign up for Clariti today to receive:

  • Access to their limited-time $45 Forever pricing
  • 50% off your first month
  • Optimization ideas for your site content
  • An invitation to join their exclusive Slack community
  • And more!

You can learn more and sign up here.

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].

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Transcript (click to expand):

Bjork Ostrom: This episode is sponsored by Clariti, C-L-A-R-I-T-I. Here’s the question, are you manually keeping track of your blog posts on a spreadsheet or project management tool? Maybe it’s like Airtable or Asana, or maybe you’re not even keeping track of anything at all? When it comes to optimizing and organizing your content how do you know what to change and how do you know what you’re doing is actually moving the needle?

With Clariti, all of that stuff is easier. It’s easier to keep track of things. It’s easier to know if the changes you’re making are having an impact, and that’s why we built it. We realized that we were using spreadsheets and cobbling together a system, and we wanted to create something that did that for you. And Clariti brings together WordPress data, Google data, like Google Search Console and Google Analytics, and it brings all of that information into one place to allow you to make decisions and also inform you about the decisions that you’ve made and if they’re having an impact. I could talk on and on about the features, but the best way to understand it is to get in and to work with the tool yourself. And the good news is Clariti is offering 50% off of your first month if you sign up. And you can do that by going to clariti.com/food. Again, that’s C-L-A-R-I-T-I.com/food, so check it out.

Thanks to Clariti for sponsoring this episode.

Alexa Peduzzi: Hey. Hi. Hello. Welcome to The Food Blogger Pro Podcast. My name is Alexa and I’m part of the Food Blogger Pro team. And we are just all so excited that you’re here today because today’s episode is a good one, and that is because we are welcoming someone who we’ve had on the podcast a couple of times before back on to talk about something that’s just really top of mind right now.

So Dianne Jacob, she wrote the book on food writing called We’ll Write For Food, but she is just a powerhouse and has a well established background in food writing. And today, she’s actually going to be talking about how the landscape of food writing is changing with things like AI, ChatGPT, and Substack. So this is going to be a great episode. Just be sure to have a pencil and paper available to take notes because you’re going to get a lot out of this episode.

So she’s going to talk about what she learned from testing ChatGPT, how recipe attribution currently looks like for AI tools, why your voice matters more than ever right now, and so much more. It’s such a good episode. You’re going to love it. And without any further ado, let’s dive in.

Bjork Ostrom: Dianne, welcome back to the podcast.

Dianne Jacob: Hey, Bjork. Nice to see you again.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. We’re at the point now where we have these longstanding work connections, work relationships, and it’s so cool to be at that point in our respective careers to be like 2015, I think was the first time that we interviewed you. And a lot has changed since then. Some things are still the same, but many things are different. We’re going to be talking about some of those things, but for those who haven’t listened to the other times that you’ve been on the podcast, give us a little bit of background on who you are and what you do.

Dianne Jacob: Okay. Well, my name is Dianne Jacob and I wrote a book starting in 2005 called We’ll Write For Food, and it’s about how to be a food writer in all its glorious iterations. So there’s a chapter on blogging, there’s a chapter on getting a cookbook deal. There’s a chapter on how the publishing industry works. There’s chapter on social media, you name it, freelance writing, what happens when you write a book, how to be a good photographer, it’s all in there. It’s in its fourth edition. And I guess I’m best known for that. I also have a free Substack newsletter on food writing, and I coach a lot of people who want to start a blog, start a newsletter, get a book deal, write better recipes, be a freelance writer. I’ve even coached people in promotion, because you have to learn how to do it along the way.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Well, and one of the things I feel like that’s probably changed since when you first started is this idea of what does promotion look like in this world? And today, 2023 promotion, it feels like is up to you. For the most part, if you’re getting a book deal, if you’re building a business, you are the one who has to figure out how to promote yourself, or you have to bring somebody in yourself or somebody who understands that world to help educate. This is what it looks like to promote yourself. Does that feel accurate?

Dianne Jacob: Yes. Yes. Well, if you get a book deal with a traditional publisher, supposedly they help you with promotion, but unless you’re a really big fish, they don’t really help you a lot. So you have to figure it out.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s on you.

Dianne Jacob: Definitely.

Bjork Ostrom: The other thing that’s cool about your book is… And maybe this is rare for book, you would know more than I would, but when you publish something in 2005 and then it continues to evolve. I’m trying to figure out what a comparable would be, but it’s different than a regular book because it lives and breathes a little bit. And the 2005 version is probably pretty different in some sections than the most recent version. Is that right?

Dianne Jacob: Yeah. There wasn’t much to say about social media. The funniest thing is, I didn’t even cover blogging in 2005 because blogging had started, but I was a snobby print person, and we all looked down on bloggers. We were like, “Who are these people? There’s no gatekeepers. There’s no editors. We don’t know what they’re doing. Why would anybody be interested? Because they haven’t been vetted and edited and blah, blah, blah.” We were so print. We were focused on print. And print is in many ways so irrelevant these days. People don’t have food magazine subscriptions anymore, right?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Dianne Jacob: It’s really difficult for that industry.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. It’s a slow, yet obvious transition where it’s not overnight, but when you look at, if you see were to see a stat of magazine subscriptions for a household 2005 compared to 2023, my guess is it would look really different.

Dianne Jacob: Really different.

Bjork Ostrom: I think probably what would look different is number of words read on a screen compared to on a piece of paper that also probably looks very different. Yeah. The vast majority of content that we’re consuming right now is on a screen. And it doesn’t mean that print books or print in general shouldn’t be a consideration. It’s just not the same as it was in 2005. One of the things I’ve noticed as we step into what feels like another reinvention of how we consume content, speaking specifically about AI, is I’m thinking back to 2009, 2010, 2011, when we would go to a conference and it would be food publishers, and we’d come in and talk about blogging and they’d be like… And I was surprised by it. Oh my gosh, what I’m saying is a little bit offensive. And so I tried to be respectful, not offensive, but-

Dianne Jacob: How could it be offensive?

Bjork Ostrom: Offensive in that threatening maybe is a better word.

Dianne Jacob: Oh, threatening. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: In offensive, in regards to, “I’m going to come in and tell you how anybody can publish content online.” And these people that we were speaking to had worked really hard to establish credibility. And it felt like in some ways it was just saying, “Anybody can do this.” And it’s like, “No, anybody can’t do it,” which is true, but like you said, there’s no gatekeepers. And that I think, felt weird. “Wait, anybody can come in and do this.”

But what I see happening now is a similar thing, except this time I’m on the other side where traditional publishing in the sense of blogging. You publish content online, I’m writing this content, original content, and now people are like, “Well, you can have artificial intelligence create this.” And I’m like, “No, no, no, no.” But I’m trying to keep an open mind and say, “You know what? This is just a very similar thing to what I experienced 10 years ago. So how do you see the opportunities here, but also be aware of the downside or the threat?” So for you, as somebody who’s deeply aware of the industry of writing and crafting words intentionally, what has it been like for you to observe the presence of AI in people’s lives more and more?

Dianne Jacob: It’s exciting and worrying at the same time, if that makes any sense. It’s exciting because it can be really helpful. A friend of mine who’s a writing teacher said that she asks ChatGPT to write her syllabus, and it’s pretty good. It’s a pretty good start. And then she figures out the rest. So that saves her a lot of work. There’s a lot of things that bloggers can use AI for. Should we back up and say what AI is?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, let’s do that. I think, there’s enough conversations I’ve had with friends and family where I’m like, “You’ve used ChatGPT, right? Or Bard, right?” And they’re like, “No.” And I’m like, “Let me show you. It’s one of my favorite things.” So can you give the background on what it is and how it works?

Dianne Jacob: Okay. I married to an engineer and he gets very cross with me whenever I say AI because he thinks that’s a misnomer. He wants me to call it machine learning, because computers have been programmed to read content and shape it for you. So it’s not quite the same as AI. But then he’s an engineer, so he worries about that thing.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure, those nuances. Is his general opinion on it, that it’s not truly artificial intelligence happening is essentially an equation that you’re feeding in and a result that a machine is giving you based on inputs, which isn’t necessarily intelligence?

Dianne Jacob: Right. It’s regurgitated and reshaped from what has appeared on the web previously. And that’s, I think, what creates a lot of problems because it says, “Oh, we only absorb the really good stuff,” but clearly when I tested it, that was not true.

Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that? What did you test?

Dianne Jacob: Well, I tested its skills in recipe writing, ChatGPT, and it gave me a recipe. It didn’t include a headnote, it didn’t include a yield. It gave me a recipe that actually didn’t work when I made it. And then I asked it to give me a headnote after that. Let me just read this to you.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure.

Dianne Jacob: What it said, it started out well because it talked about the specifics. Maybe there’s one, two sentences about the specifics of the ingredients. But then it said, “These cookies are sure to stand out on any dessert table and will leave your guests asking for the recipe. Don’t be surprised if they become your new go-to cookie recipe for every occasion, perfect for sharing with friends and family, blah, blah, blah.” And I can rail about generic content, but it really bugged me that here it is generic. Here it is regurgitating this generic content, all these cliches of recipe writing that it has found, because that’s its job is to find content and telling you, “Oh, this would be perfectly good to use. This recipe is easy to follow, and yields consistently delicious results.” Come on. None of this is good.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, none of it is good from the perspective of creative, engaging. It doesn’t have a hook. But my question is, could it be good? And I think what I’ve found in certain categories, it is good for information. And my question to you is, to what degree do you feel like creative writing is defensible versus informational writing to get people what they need? And I don’t have an answer to that, but if somebody wants an awesome chocolate chip cookie recipe, they’re not going to get it via ChatGPT or Bard right now.

Dianne Jacob: No.

Bjork Ostrom: But probably in two years or would you disagree with that?

Dianne Jacob: I don’t know what would make it awesome. When I was putting questions into ChatGPT, one of the questions I asked is writing a recipe going to become irrelevant soon because you can just generate them? And it said, “Oh, no. Voice is an important part of developing a recipe, and people are innovative and creative, and we can’t really match that.” But then I said, “Okay. Why don’t you give me an innovative and creative recipe?” So it gave me one. And one of my commenters, she was so mad when she read that recipe. She gave me six paragraphs about how awful that recipe was and how there’s nothing innovative or creative about it.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. And point being, even if you give it the right prompts, it’s not going to be able to replicate some of that. One of the things, and it’s interesting in the response that it said this is it can’t replace creativity… And Lindsay said this the other night when we were talking about it, the thing that she has as a creator that’s uniquely defensible is that she’s a human. And as much as possible, how do we figure out to be how to be as human as possible? Because at one point, strictly delivering information, what was something that you could do is still something that you could do on the internet to build an audience, build a following, top 10 places to visit in Minneapolis when you visit, as an example.

Dianne Jacob: Sure. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Those feel like potentially the first things to fall generic information that’s accessible in other platforms, or that’s accessible on other places like Bard or ChatGPT.

Dianne Jacob: Yeah. ChatGPT probably do a pretty good job of making that list.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I’m thinking of doing a trip to Birmingham with my dad, and I was like, “Hey, I’m thinking of going to Birmingham for three nights, four days. We’d like to do a civil rights tour and see some of the museums. And also we’d be interested in eating some of the iconic restaurants. Can you build an itinerary?” And it did.

Dianne Jacob: It could do. Yeah. Yeah. It could do a good job on that.

Bjork Ostrom: And so there are all things that it can do well, it does feel like recipes isn’t one of those things right now. Do you think it’ll eventually get there? Will it get to the point where…

Dianne Jacob: Yeah, sure. It’s going to get there. Yeah. And the recipe that I asked it to make a peanut butter cookie with miso, and it gave me… So then I made the recipe because I couldn’t tell exactly from looking at it whether it would work or not. So I thought, “Okay, I’m just going to make this.” And it made a super, super soft dough that tasted good, but it said, shape it into balls and put it on the cookie sheet. Well, you couldn’t shape it into ball balls. It was too soft. And so, you would have to know, “Well, how do I fix this?” So I add a quarter cup of flour, and that helped. And then it was still hard to shape it into balls. And then there was a further step with a peanut butter cookie, which is after you shape it into a ball, then you have to get the fork and make the pattern on the top, right?

And I press down on the cookie and the whole thing would lift up because it was so soft, I couldn’t really make the pattern. So then you have to know things like, “Okay, I put it in the refrigerator for half an hour to see if that would help.” And it did help a little bit, but really the only thing I had to do to it was to add the quarter cup of flour, and it made a cookie that tasted really good, but it didn’t look like or have the texture of a peanut butter cookie. So was that a failure or not? I guess if you wanted an iconic peanut butter cookie, it was a failure, but the bottom line was the cookie was really good.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Which is like, “Whoa. That’s crazy.” One of the interesting things with it, and you talked about this a little bit, so essentially there’s a dataset, and that dataset is the web. The way that they give you content is they’re trained on all the content on the web or a lot of it, or the best content on the web, whatever it is. So that’s trained on recipes that people have published, and then it makes tweaks and iterations on that. Do you know or have any thoughts on how the process of crediting is going to work in the world of these new types of search or AI?

Dianne Jacob: Well, first, I tried to get ChatGPT to tell me, where’d you get this recipe? I got nowhere with that. It just gives me these answers. “Oh, it’s an amalgamation of various algorithms, blah, blah, blah,” and we don’t have to worry about stealing because this is something entirely new. But then I tried feeding the beginning of the recipe into Google to see what would come up. And the first recipe that come came up wasn’t even a peanut butter cookie recipe. It was a cookie recipe.

Bjork Ostrom: You searched for that, those that information in search, and it just gave you a peanut butter recipe or a cookie recipe.

Dianne Jacob: They gave a cookie recipe, but not for peanut butter. So I thought that was interesting. And it was from some home EC website. It wasn’t from a person, but you can’t really, because it’s a computer, it’s compiling stuff and sorting, and that’s what it’s supposed to do. It can’t give you a strict answer. So that part is, okay, so if you’re going to generate a recipe from ChatGPT, and then put it on your blog, then the question is, are you going to say, “Well, this is a ChatGPT recipe.” And I suspect that most bloggers are not going to say that. And plus, they shouldn’t just put on their blog. They should rewrite it to match how they write their blog posts and put it in their own words and add their own personality to it. And they should test it. Just make sure it works, because what is the point if it doesn’t?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally. The interesting thing too is I don’t know copyright law very well, but my understanding is that AI generated content, purely AI generated, isn’t copyrightable?

Dianne Jacob: Correct. And recipes aren’t copyrightable, so it’s the same.

Bjork Ostrom: Sure. Yeah. But almost on the flip side, what I’m interested in is what does it look like for some of these models like ChatGPT or Bard to give credit to the places that they’re getting the recipe from? As an example, as we were talking here, I asked Bard, so for everybody uses Google for search, bard is Google’s solution for AI content, like AI interactions. I said, “What’s a good peanut butter cookie recipe?” And it said, “Here’s a good peanut butter cookie recipe.” Gives me the instructions, the ingredients, tips. And then I said, “What sites did you get this recipe from?” And it said, Sally’s Baking Addiction, The Kitchn, and Preppy Kitchen.”

Dianne Jacob: Oh, wow.

Bjork Ostrom: And it tells me the three of them, and I’ll screenshot this so we can include it in the show notes, but even in giving credit to the different sources, it shows the URL, but the URL isn’t clickable. And so, it feels like there’s still these pretty significant kinks that need to get worked out in the world of search where they’re using this content and building answers based on it, but not giving credit to the source of where that was built from. Which feels like there’s something there.

Dianne Jacob: At least two of the sources are very big and well-known sites are very credible. So that was good. I don’t know Preppy Kitchen, so that was good. But I wonder how they would feel about being the source of-

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, probably not great. If it was us I wouldn’t feel great. And I think that’s the bigger question that I think all of us are… And we don’t have an answer. And my hope is what happens is there’s some type of credit given, but I think the world of search is evolving in a way where we’re moving away from 10 blue links that you click on.

And that’s a huge driver for a lot of blogs. And so, similarly to what we talked about before we press record, the question is has to move beyond just blogs into creating your creators. And you alluded to this. There’s like fear with this new reality, but there’s also opportunities. And as a creator, as somebody who wants to build a thing online and to have autonomy in their work and potentially get compensated for it, what are the ways that we can lean into our humanity and still persevere and build a following despite these significant changes that are happening?

Dianne Jacob: I’ve been fighting a losing battle talking about the importance of voice, but I know it’s still a huge part of Pinch of Yum. I can recognize Lindsay’s voice, and it’s a differentiating factor, but people do feel as I think largely as a result of where they’re going to rank in SEO, that they have to be as generic as possible. And I just don’t really understand how that helps people. So that’s where you have a unique advantage, is the power of your own strong voice. And if you’re going to just write this generic stuff, you and everybody else will be producing material that your reader can’t differentiate. And so, what is the point of that? You can ask these machine learning software, there’s a whole bunch of them now to give you an introductory paragraph, to write an FAQ about your blog. It can give you summaries, it can give you a first draft, it can help you write lists. But then you don’t just leave it at that because you’re good at your job. You make it yours, and only you can make it yours, and that’s your kryptonite.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. I love that reflection on voice. And I think you talk about fighting a losing battle. I think one of the things that I’ve observed, and maybe you can comment on this as well if you feel like you can relate to it, but in any industry, but I think anything online, there are waves. And when those are changes, they’re platforms, there are things that are working, and a wave will work, a wave will come. And if you’re a surfer, you can catch it. And to catch that wave is a really great feeling. But no wave lasts forever. And one of the curiosities that I have is a wave that I think is especially true, and we’ve seen it in the last five years of a mechanical approach to search optimization. You need to include these different components to the site. It needs to be worded like this. The structure needs to look like this. I think those 100% work. It works. You can get a ton of traffic. And there are people who have built massive amounts of traffic based on that process.

Inevitably, with any evolution of a thing that works, the more people do it, the more crowded it gets, the more similar it potentially it gets. And eventually any wave stops. It doesn’t go on forever. And what I’m curious about in the world of content creation, on a website or on other platforms, but specifically now on a website, is what does the next wave look like after this one subsides? And there’ll always be components of search optimization in terms of how you structure your site and best practices. But my curiosity is is there a way that voice comes back into it? And just as one more quick observation, there was a time when one of the search optimization things that worked really well was you’d create an article and then you’d do this process called article spinning, and you’d go through and you would replace words in that article with similar but different words. And then you would post that article to 10 different sites and you’d have all of the links pointing back to your main site.

Dianne Jacob: No, good.

Bjork Ostrom: And it worked, and people built these followings on it. But eventually, what happened is Google said, “We see what’s happening here. We’re going to move away from this.” And I’m curious to know, is there a time when the search results page as it needs to become more human, does Google make it where the answers that you’re finding are embedded, generally speaking within the search results page? And then does it fold in a human layer for those who are looking more for the social media experience? That’s just a hypothetical, but I’d be curious to hear your reflections on that. And even waves that you’ve seen working and in this world and how you need to either stay up on those or just say, “I’m not going to fight that fight and I’m going to stick to what I’m good at.”

Dianne Jacob: Wow. These are really big questions. Well, as we were saying before, we pressed record, putting ads on your site really works for people. It’s still the majority of the income that bloggers receive. Right? If you go to a different kind of medium, there aren’t any ads. There aren’t ads on Instagram in the same way.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. Sponsored content or working with brands, but not like-

Dianne Jacob: But not ads.

Bjork Ostrom: … based on views. Yup.

Dianne Jacob: And ads is still the main way that bloggers make money. Right?

Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Dianne Jacob: And that has continued, and people have switched their ad network and gotten more money, and they’ve refined their processes on how to get more followers to come to their pages. And all that is still working. But there are other models that also work. The people who are making a lot, who have the biggest food newsletters on Substack are making six figure incomes. And I’m not talking about the low six figures either, and they’re no ads.

Bjork Ostrom: And the experience is really clean. You get a newsletter a lot most often, and maybe you can talk about this because I know that you’ve done it. It’s a free newsletter. It’s full of great content. And then you also have, generally speaking, a premium newsletter that people pay to be subscriber to. And I think these are the things that get me really excited. The industry is changing. Things are shifting for sure. I think as things are right now, people are still searching for recipes. They’re still going to sites to get recipe content, but inevitably things will change.

But the thing that will continue to exist throughout it all is if you are good at creating and connecting, creating and helping, creating and entertaining. There are going to be opportunities for you to do that ongoing. The platform might change, how you do it might change. But if you’re good at that core thing and you’re willing to evolve, there’ll always be opportunities for you to serve an audience and to connect with people.

Dianne Jacob: Definitely.

Bjork Ostrom: And it’s interesting to see your evolution in pausing your blog and spinning up your Substack newsletter. So can you talk about the decision to do that and what you’ve learned along the way?

Dianne Jacob: Well, I’m lucky in that David Lebovitz, who’s a huge blogger and author, has mentored me. And he’s an early adopter, which is cool. He is not 25, but he still gets really excited by new technology and wants to try things and master them. And so, he was on Substack for about a year, and then he paused his blog and he said, “I should do the same thing.” And I was terrified of pausing my blog.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Why were you terrified of it?

Dianne Jacob: To your earlier point, things don’t have to go on forever in the same way. And you don’t really want anything to go on forever in the same way, unless you’re maybe a really dull person, I don’t know. Even when it’s working, you get a little impatient and you wonder what’s next, right? So I did it. I moved to Substack, and it’s much easier than blogging. SEO is not even a consideration. I kept asking them, I would email support and go, “How does SEO work into this?” Because we’re all obsessed with SEO. And I would get like, “No, no, that’s not how this model works.”

Bjork Ostrom: And that’s for people who don’t want to do SEO very freeing.

Dianne Jacob: Very freeing. And it works in that Substack creates a community that promotes each other. And so most of my growth on Substack has been from other Substack newsletters that recommend mine.

Bjork Ostrom: Is that naturally there’s other people who have a newsletter and they say, “Hey, be sure to check out this newsletter.”

Dianne Jacob: Well, the way that it works is really interesting because you have your homepage and you read X number of Substack newsletters yourself. And so Substack asks you, “Well, which of these would you like to recommend to your readers?” And then it prioritizes maybe three or four Substacks, and then you can write a letter of recommendation underneath. And so on my homepage, you’ll find people recommending my newsletter. But it’s really exciting to get like yesterday I got an email from Substack saying, “Jeremiah Tower just recommended your newsletter.” And you may not know who he is. He was a chef at Chez Panisse, and he lives in Mexico now with his husband and living a good life. But he’s an amazing storyteller. He wrote an outrageous post about what it was like at Chez Panisse in the early days when there was a lot of cocaine use in the kitchen.

Bjork Ostrom: Which is I’m sure so interesting. Yeah.

Dianne Jacob: All this crazy stuff. And it’s really fun to read his newsletter. And so, I was hugely flattered that he was recommending mine. He doesn’t need to learn how to start a blog or get published in the Washington Post or anything, which is my most recent one. So yeah, we feel subscriptions ourselves because you’re pre-approved, right? If this very well established person who’s writing a newsletter recommends your blog, then people will go and will click on it and see, “What is your newsletter? Well, oh, what is that newsletter? Let me check it out.” Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. What’s exciting for me is it feels like, and we interviewed David on the podcast a long time ago. I don’t know him super well, but I have a huge amount of respect for him. And the idea of somebody like David doing keyword research to find how to get the least competitive keyword for a certain recipe is like, “No,” it just feels like sacrilegious because of his… And again, I don’t know him super well. It feels like baked into his soul, who he is. It’s so genuinely, and what does it look like to let that be its purest form?

And for a season, publishing on your blog was that. It was a place where people would follow along with you. There wasn’t as much consideration around search optimization, and that worked really well for that season for people who wrote in that way. But as the industry shifted, as it changed, people spend more time on social now to get those connections. They’re not doing that on blogs naturally. You talked about this season where you’d publish something and you’d have 50 comments, and that just doesn’t exist anymore. And as that’s shifted, there are people who are really, really good at keyword research and finding a piece of content to write about and doing the recipe development, having a system for it. And that’s their wave, and that’s awesome. And they’ve figured it out.

But the thing that I think is important, and you point this out and David’s story is an example of this as well, is being light on your feet and saying, “Okay, where’s a good place for me with these skills and these abilities to go that’s going to serve me well?” And it feels like Substack is a great example of that for somebody who is a writer, who has rich story, who connects with their audience. Do you feel like there’s other places similar Substack for writers? Where are the other places that writers should think about living or going? Or is it really newsletters, email, or even-

Dianne Jacob: Newsletters, email, blogs. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That’s what you would say.

Dianne Jacob: If you want to write for the Washington Post or food and wine, great. I don’t think it’s the same thing, because there are gatekeepers and you can’t do it on a regular basis. You can with your own product.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. You’re asking permission more than just doing it.

Dianne Jacob: Yeah. They’re not going to publish something that you wrote every week.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. That makes sense. It feels like there’s also an opportunity for certain platforms for people who are writers to bend at the platform in a certain way. Twitter as an example, I see a lot of people being successful on Twitter in these niche communities, writing in really creative ways. Does that feel true or do you feel like it’s hard to find that in the food world?

Dianne Jacob: Well, Twitter’s having a moment right now where people have left and we’re not sure about what’s next. And so it’s hazy and people aren’t participating as much, is what I’m noticing. One of the things that’s disturbing about Twitter is all the fake news that gets put on there. And it is one of the things I worry about with AI. I don’t think in food writing, it’s not a fake news situation, but it could be very serious if AI is used as a tool to put a lot more fake stuff out into the world. And I don’t have any doubt that it would be, and it’s like we’re already in a bad enough situation right now with it so-

Bjork Ostrom: Generating, convincing, not true content.

Dianne Jacob: Yeah. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, totally.

Dianne Jacob: Fortunately, food writing is not about that. It’s a lot more joyous than that.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s not exactly our world, right?

Dianne Jacob: We’re having fun. We don’t have to make stuff up that could harm other people.

Bjork Ostrom: Totally. The stakes aren’t quite as high.

Dianne Jacob: No.

Bjork Ostrom: As maybe the world of politics or something like that. So to get back to Substack before we get too far away from it, can you talk about even just the mechanics of how it works? So for you, have a newsletter people sign up for it, and then once a week, do you send out a premium newsletter and does that have additional material in it? Is it once a month? What have you seen other people do that works well? And then what are you doing as you get to know the platform?

Dianne Jacob: Well, when you start it, you’re going to be free because you’re just getting started and it’s just going to be a free newsletter because you have to figure out how to get it to be a paid newsletter, and it’s very much blogging. I find it a lot easier to use than WordPress because you can’t really mess around with it that much. They have a format and you have to stick to it. In a way that’s good. So you have to decide, same as with blogging, how often you’re going to send something out, and then eventually they’re going to want you to go to paid how they make money, and you get all these encouraging emails, “When should you go paid? Here’s how to do it.” And so, you have to figure out what of your content should be paid. A lot of people are putting recipes behind a paywall. So that’s one approach. And what I’m wondering is can Bard and ChatGPT access your content if it’s behind a paywall?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. On a site, I think it probably depends on how the paywall is set up, but yeah.

Dianne Jacob: But is it engineered to overcome paywalls and go and grab your content? It’s the same question, right?

Bjork Ostrom: I sure hope not, but maybe.

Dianne Jacob: I hope not too.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. But I wouldn’t be surprised at the same time.

Dianne Jacob: Right. And then sometimes people do cooking classes or cook alongs or private sessions or… So you just have to figure out, “Well, what is it that people will pay for?” And it’s a good question because that’s so different from blogging where everything is free pretty much, and you’re making your money from ads unless you’re going to try and sell an ebook or something.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Yeah. Well, go ahead, finish that thought, and then I have to.

Dianne Jacob: Well, you have to figure out how often. Is once a week too much? I only send out two a month unless there’s some breaking news. When I was on David’s podcast, I put that up as soon as I could, and sometimes I’ll do what’s called the thread where you ask people a question and you hope that there’s going to be a big response, and they’re going to interact with each other in the answers. So you have to figure all that out.

What’s nice about it is that it doesn’t feel like you’re paying fees because there isn’t a lump sum, it is a lump sum, and then stuff gets deducted from it. Stripe is processing all the payments, so they charge a fee and then stack charges a fee. So you just get money transferred into your bank account and-

Bjork Ostrom: Which is great.

Dianne Jacob: … and it’s really weird. Some days it’ll be $4 and 25 cents was deposited in your bank account, and some days it’ll be $350 was deposited into your bank account. I don’t know what they’re doing, but-

Bjork Ostrom: How it all works. Sure. But the idea, and what I love about that, and one of the things we often talk about is, “Okay, if you can make $100 in a month from doing a thing, you can probably make $200.” And what does it look like to play the numbers game with that and think strategically, and I think the numbers game is easier when it’s subscriptions versus ad revenue. It’s easier to see, “Okay, if I get 1,000 subscribers, here’s how much I could make.” Let’s work backwards from that and see, “Okay, if I know that every 100 people who sign up one of them becomes paid, what does that look like?” Starting to do the math around that.

Dianne Jacob: They will tell you the math. They will tell you what the percentages of people.

Bjork Ostrom: Oh, do you know what they are off the top of your head?

Dianne Jacob: I can’t remember. 5% maybe.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Which is I guess higher than I thought it would be. Yeah.

Dianne Jacob: Yeah. But okay. But see, I’m thinking about the magazine model. When I was a magazine editor, it was ads that paid my salary not subscriptions, because ads adds so much more.

Bjork Ostrom: Yep. The subscriptions were essentially just a mechanism cost so much Yeah. Right.

Dianne Jacob: How much can you charge for a subscription you can’t charge?

Bjork Ostrom: I think it depends on what you’re delivering. If you’re telling people where gold is buried, probably a lot. So I think it really depends on all of the variables of market and product and…

Dianne Jacob: Well, it depends, but at least in the magazine model, one of the reasons so many magazines, the main reason why magazines went under is because all their advertisers left and went to Google and Facebook because it was cheaper.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, more effective. More impactful.

Dianne Jacob: One page in the New York Times is, I don’t know, $50,000 for a full page ad or something. And then if you’re just getting people to subscribe for a $25 a year. It takes a lot of subscribers

Bjork Ostrom: Subscribers to make that substantial. Yeah.

Dianne Jacob: Yeah. And it’s the same with Substack. If you’re charging, I think their base is $30 a year or $5 a month, I think, you got to have a lot of paid subscribers for that to add up to something. And so, of course, for the great majority of people, it’ll be a little supplemental income, but since you’re not Alison Roman, then it’s not going to buy you a house in New York.

Bjork Ostrom: Right. We talk about occasionally on the podcast, this idea of the egg carton method, but you have this egg carton and visualize filling those in different ways to get you to the point where your goal income is. If your goal is to produce income as a creator, one of the ways you can think of it is not just one source, but to say, “Okay, I can maybe get $500 a month from ad revenue from my blog in the beginning stages.” Obviously, any of those, like you said, could be massively successful. But when you’re first starting out, if you want to get there, what does that look like? Okay. You can do some consulting. You can do a subset newsletter, get really good at that. Starting to fill those in little by little to get you to the point where you’re like, “Okay, now I have part-time income, or potentially getting to the point where you have full-time income and stacking those up over time.”

Dianne Jacob: Well, I agree with you theoretically, especially at the beginning, but for the great majority of freelancers who earn money from their blogs, isn’t like 80 or 90% of their income from ads?

Bjork Ostrom: Right. Yep. I think if you were to look at anybody who’s creating in the food space and they’re creating strictly from digital income, the majority of it is ads on your blog. I think that will change. And I also think us as an example, when we were first starting out, I was making $250 or we $250 from the blog. I was doing consulting for people. I was working hard time. We had a product that we were selling. We had this ebook that we were selling. We’re doing affiliate related stuff.

So in the early stages, piecing these things together to get to a point where it’s like, “Okay, this is great. This is how we’re making our money.” I think usually what happens is out of that, there’s an expertise or a skill that somebody develops and that becomes their lead generator. Sometimes people get into it and they’re like, “I love photography.” And that one egg becomes their primary egg. They do freelance photography, or they realize they love development, or they develop a product and they sell that product.

One of the ways that you can come out of it is like you get good at getting traffic to your site, and so ads become the primary way. So I think long term, it usually becomes a lead and there’s one lead generator, and I think a lot of times then what happens is once you have the capacity to hire other people, you bring in other things that start to even out the egg carton a little bit. Like we started to sell meal plans, as an example.

Dianne Jacob: Meal plans, really?

Bjork Ostrom: We’re starting to diversify a little bit. Yeah. Yup.

Dianne Jacob: Oh, wow. I didn’t know. Do you still do that?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, we just started within the last year. Yeah.

Dianne Jacob: Oh, in the last year. Okay. I have to go check that out.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. This is awesome, Dianne. Super fun to connect. Anytime that we get to chat, it’s like you know the industry so well. I so appreciate your-

Dianne Jacob: Well, you too.

Bjork Ostrom: … deep knowledge around it and expertise. For those who’d want to work with you, what’s the best way for them to reach out and connect with you?

Dianne Jacob: Oh, just shoot me an email, [email protected]. D-I-A-N-N-E-J.com.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool. And check out your Substack as well.

Dianne Jacob: Sure. I would love that. Yeah.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, awesome.

Dianne Jacob: It’s the same content for anyone who’s writing about food, basically. And although I don’t really cover a lot of historical writing, it’s not anything. It’s not fiction. But it’s for food bloggers and food writers, so…

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. You could just search Dianne Jacob’s Substack and it would bring you there.

Dianne Jacob: Yep, diannejacob.substack.com.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Dianne, thanks so much for coming on. Great to connect.

Dianne Jacob: Thank you. Great to see you.

Alexa Peduzzi: And that’s a wrap for this episode of the Food Blogger Pro Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in. We hope you enjoyed it, and we hope you got a lot out of this episode. But the Food Blogger Pro Podcast is just one element of what we do here at Food Blogger Pro. We also have a membership, and that is a community site where we teach people like you how to start and grow their own food blogs through courses, through events, through forum discussions, and more. The Food Blogger Pro membership is just a great place to be if you’re really ready to level up your blog and your online food business because we have just so much awesome content for you as soon as you join.

Every month, we like to add new content to the site so that your membership is always growing in value, and August is no different. So on August 3rd, we have a new coaching call and coaching calls are new this year, and they give a member of the Food Blogger Pro community a chance to jump on a call with Bjork and ask him a bunch of questions about their blogs, their businesses, and pretty much anything under the sun. They’re always just really great conversations, and all Food Blogger Pro members can benefit from the conversations as they’re recorded and then published. So our coaching call with Delete will be available on August 3rd, and in that coaching call, Bjork and Delete will talk about how to differentiate yourself in this space, how to become an expert, establishing your niche, getting started with video, and so much more. It’s a really, really great coaching call, and I think you’re really going to enjoy it.

Then on August 17th, we have a Q&A with the one, the only, Andrew Wilder from Nerd Press. Andrew is one of our longtime experts here at Food Blogger Pro, and he’s going to be joining Bjork to talk about some of the plugins and site speed tools that he recommends for bloggers. It’s a really great topic and one that’s top of mind, especially as we’re slowly but surely heading into Q4 this year. We want to make sure that our sites are up to snuff, so definitely make sure to check that out.

Then on August 24th, we have a brand new course all about Canva coming out. Now, Canva is such a powerful tool, and there are so many features within Canva that you might not even be using if you’re already familiar with the tool. So definitely get excited for that. And then we have a blog post coming out on August 31st. That is our Foods Trending this fall blog post. You can find all of our past blog posts at foodbloggerpro.com/blog, but this one in particular is going to focus on some of the recipes and food ideas that your followers and readers may be searching for in fall. So it’s going to be a good one as well.

And that does it for our little, looking forward to August 2023 on Food Blogger Pro recap. If you’re interested in joining the membership or just learning more about it, you can go to foodbloggerpro.com/join. There’s all the information about the membership right there, and you can get signed up either with an annual or quarterly membership. But that does it for us this week. We hope you enjoyed this episode and we’ll see you next time.

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