The Future of Cookbook Publishing – Part Two

by Adam on February 18, 2010

The article from (see Part One of this post for more info) got me thinking in a number of ways about all that we’re doing digitally at The Harvard Common Press and as an industry. One of the biggest things that sticks out for me is the idea of selling recipes via the iTunes model. In the article, Lynn Andriani of Publisher’s Weekly suggests $0.99 per recipe, clearly taking a cue from the music industry. Who knows what the specific pricing will be (or if we might be better served doing a small bundle of recipes for a larger price?) but it all relates to this new model of getting premium content out there. One of the biggest questions I have with this though is, who sets up the platform? The music industry had iTunes…maybe Apple will do it again for recipes, but in any case, publishers need a place where they can list the recipes without having to build the platform themselves.

Not surprisingly, there’s also a mention of premium content models that involve monthly or yearly subscriptions. I think it’s something many of us in the industry have considered, but it does represent some significant technological hurdles in terms of chunking the content and building a user interface that can be robust enough that people will pay (there’s also the issue of having access to only one publishers’ content. But, that can be worked around if there’s a consortium of publishers that agree to work together to build the model and offer recipes…similar to what the music industry did with iTunes). A dedicated site would also allow for a great amount of control over the quality of the recipes, DRM capabilities, as well as an opportunity to capture user information for later marketing or sales campaigns.

There’s also some discussion of mobile, although I think that’s a bit harder to pin down now that Apple has introduced the iPad, which by all accounts is a mobile device with just about all the functionality of a laptop computer (at least from a browsing perspective). Publishers may have a bit of a tough time now either deciding to build apps just for the iPad or iPhone or trying to find the resources to build for both. And then there’s the question of whether to spend money building apps for the iPad when Apple already offers the iBookstore. AND, whether people will really take the iPad into the kitchen when cooking. But, it is an exciting avenue to pursue and we’ll need to be sure that we do differentiate our content enough on a device that’s so incredibly interconnected – or else risk getting lost in the deluge of information that the iPad provides.

At the end of the day though, we also see the author/agent perspective, which is one of the greatest stumbling blocks (outside of technological hurdles) that we have to contend with: ““I would be a lot stricter about those kinds of [digital] rights,” says Katherine Cowles, a literary agent who represents high-end projects like Tartine, the cookbook from the famous bakery in San Francisco. “You have no control on how the production turns out. … My authors’ books are deeply considered: the design, the pacing, the photography, the concept-crafting—even the type of paper.”

My fear is that we never get past that mentality and end up mired in battles over royalties rather than trying to find a way to save each other.

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