The future of digital cookbooks

Enterpreneur magazine is running an interesting story suggesting that 2014 will see a continuation of the trend of renewed interest in cookbooks.

The background is a fairly typical story of the decline of print media in the age of easily-accessible plenty. The widespread growth of online cooking repositories, along with easily accessible tutorials on video sharing sites like YouTube has, as the story suggests, negatively impacted the cookbook sector about as badly as one would expect, cutting into profits and forcing publishers to re-evaluate the volume they plan to publish annually.

Over the course of the past year, cookbooks have shown that the consumer still places great value on high-value, hardcover cookbooks. Growth in 2012 was extremely high and UK supermarket giant Sainsburys recently reported that their cookbooks are selling better than ever before.

At first glance this news of continuing interest in print cookbooks would reflect badly upon the outlook for the digital cookbook market. Digital cookbook growth has shown tepid growth, but at nothing like the explosive pace of say, the digital children’s book market in spite of early confidence it would.

Philip Stone’s comments over at The Bookseller about digital cookbooks and their relationship to their print equivalents underscore a pessimistic outlook:

“I’d be surprised if even one in every 100 cookbooks sold in the UK is a digital edition. The reason? Those big, weighty, glossy, lavishly-illustrated cookbooks by your Jamies and Nigellas look like a dog’s dinner on a Kindle, and I think home chefs would much rather their cheap paperback books get accidentally splattered with pasta sauce than their shiny iPads.”

I’d like to consider an alternative point of view instead: The renewed interest in high-value “coffee table” like hardcover cookbooks bodes well digital equivalents that add value in the form of rich media content as it underscores that the consumer is willing to pay more for added value content.

The form factor of the tablet device, getting ever thinner, lends itself well to a kitchen environment. Despite the plenitude of what the internet offers in terms of cooking tutorials and recipes there’s a natural limitation in that most people do not have traditional internet connected devices in the kitchen. In recognition of this fact there’s been an effort in recent years by white goods manufacturers and bespoke kitchen home improvement companies to integrate internet connectivity into everything from fridges to kitchen cabinets. Tablets can exploit this need for an internet connected device in the kitchen whilst maintaining mobility and playing upon the device’s main strength: It’s usefulness as an e-reader.

The recent release of an abridged, tailored for tablet edition of Modernist Cuisine is perhaps a good case study for how publishers should approach the issue of digital cookbooks and there are countless other excellent examples of digital cookbooks created either in an app environment or by employing specific enterprise tools like iBooks Author, the challenge is in pricing these competitively and successfully marketing them as a complementary product to existing print editions that adds value in of itself.

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