What’s cooking?

Publishers Weekly, which has been hosting a discussion series on "the future of book publishing", last month convened a panel to explore "The Digital Kitchen: Adapting Cookbooks in the Digital Age". Participants included Amanda Hesser (Food52.com), Doris Cooper (Clarkson Potter) and Melissa Clark (New York Times).

The event was also covered by PW in an article, "How is digital changing cookbooks?", that appeared on November 19. I didn't attend the panel, and I struggled with the write-up, as there didn't seem to be a coherent point of view around the central theme, "adapting cookbooks".

Some panels are just divergent, and maybe this is an example of one. I worry, though, that some of the things the article stressed (the value of curation, cookbooks as "reading experiences" and a limited market for apps in the kitchen) are things publishers are saying to keep the digital present at bay.

I've been kicking this around for a while. Written in 2010, "Context first" includes a short passage that called out cookbooks, in particular:

"A couple of years ago, I sketched out a version of a somewhat basic diagram of the kinds of content best served by the use of XML. The typical winners are in the upper right – genres, like cooking, that have many components, or 'chunks', and a higher probably of being recombined or reused. Our problem is, we’re not the only ones looking at these markets."

I went on to note that "the challenge is not just being digital; it’s being demonstrably relevant to the audiences who now turn first to digital to find content", something I think this is even more true today.

The article claims that "for apps, many consumers are still hesitant to put a $399 iPad on the kitchen counter". That may be true, but it would be a simple problem to solve if you could print from the app. Maybe something else is at work here.

Focusing on apps begs the question, "Why do we need an app?", other than to control the interface and curate the content. The same could be said of eBooks, enhanced or otherwise. We're left talking about what we know because we haven't yet focused on the problems that people want solved.

In "Context first", I used Cookstr as an example of how a focus on taxonomy might inform the future development of content. But even Cookstr believes in a curated model: "to organize the world‘s best cookbooks and recipes and make them universally accessible." I wonder if that's going to be broad enough to work.


About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.