Conde Nast may have stumbled upon a new way to digitize its popular brands that can no longer sustain a full magazine publishing schedule. Media companies large and small rushed to get their magazine content on the device at launch, but Conde Nast is hoping to resuscitate the dearly departed Gourmet with a new iPad app that will not rely on sharing magazine content.

Ruth Reichl, the magazine’s well-respectd former editor wrote on Twitter this morning:

“They’re reviving the brand, not the magazine. Pity.”

In fact, it could be just the opposite. But Conde Nast will have to get a lot of things right for the app to suceed.

Gourmet was an absolutely beloved magazine that Conde Nast shuttered last October. At the time, there was hope that Gourmet would live on online, but the staff was unceremoniously let go in the middle of closing an issue.

And Conde Nast is adamant that the new Gourmet Live iPad app won’t simply be a magazine ported to the device. Chuck Townsend, the company’s chief executive, told The New York Times:

“It’s not a magazine and it’s not a digital version of a magazine. It’s a whole new
way to engage with consumers.”

It appears that the app will be free, but certain content will cost money. According to the Times:

“[The] new application will also allow users to share articles to
social sites like Facebook and Twitter, tag articles as favorites and
see which articles are more popular among their friends. In addition,
Gourmet Live will incorporate a real-time game engine, not unlike the
model popularized by the mobile application Foursquare,
that will unlock new content, both free and for a small fee, for
readers as they navigate through the application. Eventually, the
application could  expand to include features like user reviews of
restaurants and recommendations.”

Conde Nast shuttered Gourmet due to budget issues, but there’s much more hope for the brand than a resurfaced magazine today. Especially considering the wealth of food titles Conde Nast is trying to get afloat. In addition to Gourmet, there are the gently competitive Bon Appetit and Epicurious.

It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that Conde Nast will find different uses for these brands over time.

According to Conde Nast, 60 million uniques a month are search the
web for food content. Finding a place for them on the iPad makes a
lot of sense. Now whether Conde Nast will make a product that is useful
(and worth paying for) is another story.

Will Gourmet Live be filled with new and interesting content Apple’s mobile users will want to pay for?

Gourmet has a lustrous and impressive archive of content. But people looking for things like David Foster Wallace’s seminal lobster essay can already find that online.

As for Apple’s new tablet, there have been a lot of complaints that the iPad is more of a lean back than a lean forward device. But for certain content, that is preferable. Digital video is one area. The iPad could also be an excellent platform for cooks trying out new recipes. Unlike clunky cookbooks (or the tiny screen on the iPhone), the iPad could create a great viewing experience for cooks. And an excellent place for interactive elements.

There’s certainly a financial incentive. According to Townsend, Wired’s June issue has been downloaded for the ipad more than 90,000
times. At $4.99 per download, that’s a good chunk of change. It’s also more than hard copy sales (though Townsend insists the iPad app isn’t cutting into those sales either).

But unless Conde Nast finds someone to guide Gourmet’s brand into a coherent app, the new venture could end up going nowhere. The iPad offers plenty of room for developers to deliver content in new and interesting ways. Much like with early apps on the iPhone, brands that deliver the first apps in their category are likely to win users.

However, repackaging existing articles is likely not the way to win over new Gourmet fans (and considering the way Gourmet magazine died, existing fans may not rush to this new venture). Conde Nast will have to come up with features that appeal to cooks and Gourmet’s core demographic. And it’s not entirely clear that will happen.

According to the New York Observer:

“As Mr. Townsend emphasized — and which was reiterated by their partners
at Activate, a technology consulting company — this is all about making
a web business, even if it is creating a new one by using all the
leftovers.”