Are Digital Cookbooks Ready for the Next Level?

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This guy looks very happy to be cooking with an iPad...almost too happy.

If growth in children’s e-publishing and the shifting demographics of cookbook buyers are any indication, the next e-book market segment to show explosive growth might be digital cookbooks.

I’ve been thinking about digital cookbooks because I was on a panel this week at the International Association of Culinary Professionals 34th annual conference in New York talking about content creation and marketing of digital cookbooks.

In preparation for the panel — reading, researching, talking to other panelists and experts in the space — I learned a lot of interesting things, like that the average age of cookbook buyers has shifted down to 41.5 years old from 46.5 in the past two years, according to a recent report by Bowker. I also learned that roughly half of all cookbook sales are made on Amazon and that more cookbook purchases are impulse buys compared to planned buys.

As for cookbook publishers, they have moved pretty aggressively into the digital space but are facing some of the same challenges that other publishers of highly illustrated content have been facing over the past few years:

– The cost of digitizing such content

– The way that content is displayed

– Pricing that content profitably but attractively to the buyer

– Only now are the platforms for properly engaging with many e-cookbooks now becoming popular (namely, tablet computers)

Still, the opportunity is very attractive. So attractive, in fact, that Allrecipes.com, a dominant player in the online recipes space, has invested significantly into making e-books. The company has so far created 13 titles featuring “best of” recipe collections priced from $3.99 to $7.99. The company has sold about 10,000 copies of these books at this point, according to Judith Dern, a senior manager for digital books at Allrecipes.com (she was on the panel).

The experiment hasn’t yet met the company’s expectations for success, but Allrecipes.com is pressing forward, anticipating that the market will grow.

Traditional cookbook publishers Andrew McMeel and The Harvard Common Press (who also had representatives on the panel) are publishing their fare digitally. These companies seem to view digital delivery as being where the reader wants them to be. Andrews McMeel has a digital-first strategy, according to the company’s president and publishers, Kirsty Melville. The Harvard Common Press uses a considered approach when building digital book projects.

Both companies are in the early days of figuring out the market and all its challenges. Should there be an enhanced e-book version of each cookbook, complete with video demonstrations? How should the books be marketed and sold and at what price? These are fairly open questions at this point, pending more experimentation and learning.

The biggest question of all might be, will readers take their iPads into the kitchen and risk having their $600 devices become sautéed, souffléed or filleted? Some already are. Will many more follow?

But it seems to me that it might just be time for this market to start growing. After all, the children’s e-book market, which faces some of the same problems (publishers wondering how to affordably produce the things and readers wondering if they want to consume the content in that form), exploded in January. And those buying cookbooks are skewing younger now than they were even two years ago, which suggests to me that there is a growing interest in cookbooks among a group that may be more inclined to buy things digitally: younger people.

Once publishers figure out how to make and market e-cookbooks, and readers have the technology and decide that’s how they want to consume the content, then we’ll see strong growth in the e-cookbook market — and, hopefully, some growth in the market for marinara-proof iPad cases.

I was on two panels yesterday at the IACP conference, both about digital cookbooks. The first was about content development and the second was about marketing. My fellow panelists were Judith Dern, senior manager for digital books at Allrecipes.com; Kirsty Melville, president and publisher of the book division at Andrews McMeel; Adam Salomone, associate publisher at The Harvard Common Press; and Matthew Sartwell, the manager of Kitchen Arts & Letters, a specialty bookstore that focuses on cookbooks in Manhattan. The panel was moderated by Martha Holmberg, who is the conference chairperson for the IACP conference.

Write to Jeremy Greenfield

Chef holding a tablet computer image via Shutterstock

Jeremy Greenfield

About Jeremy Greenfield

Jeremy Greenfield is the editorial director of Digital Book World. Opinions presented here are his own. Read more of his work here.

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