Cookbook author Marcy Goldman launched her Web site in 1998. Since then, BetterBaking.com—which Goldman describes as an online magazine—has pioneered a pay-for-content model that now charges visitors $2.49 per recipe and also offers quarterly and six-month subscriptions. Recipe sales were up 40% last year, and as Goldman continues work on her fourth cookbook, The Baker’s Four Seasons (Harper Studio), she talked to PW about fiercely guarding her content.
PW: When did you begin charging for recipes?
MG: In 2003. As an author I saw no reason to give away the farm for free, and I wanted to safeguard my recipes. It wasn’t about making money by the recipe; it was about protecting copyright. I’d Google things and find special recipes I’d worked on for ages [available for free].
PW: What was the initial response?
MG: In a climate where content is largely free, I got a lot of emails saying I was greedy and that the Internet should be free. But then I got people who wouldn’t lay out $15 [for a quarterly subscription, which now costs $16.99], but would want a recipe here and there. So I introduced an iTunes model—pay by recipe. Recipes used to be $1.99 and are now $2.49. Paypal takes a huge chunk so it’s not necessarily money-making. I made it clear to my consumers that I adore the traffic and I love the fans, but it is intellectual property.
PW: But recipes aren’t protected by copyright, are they?
MG: The Library of Congress officially says no, they are not. Head notes on recipes, yes. But your ingredients, your methodology? Not really. There’s not a whole lot you can do. What you can do is make yourself a brand, and people think twice about abusing a brand.
PW: Have people’s attitudes toward paying for recipes changed?
MG: [My recipe sales are] augmenting every other day. I would say sales have grown 20% in 2008, and 40% in 2009. The full (quarterly and half-year full) subscriptions to my Web site show a steady conservative growth of 15% or so, telling me there is a core group (and this group seems to be my cookbook buyers). There are also always free recipes every month, and I Twitter one free recipe a week.
PW: How have your publishers [Goldman has published books with Oxmoor House, Whitecap, and Ten Speed] responded to your business model?
MG: Publishers don’t want to see the same content in your cookbook also appearing online as a recipe for sale. Publishers feel they’re paying in advance for a body of work and they don’t want that to be cannibalized by a similar body of work online. I think it’s a really exciting time for cookbooks. There is a huge hunger for both technique cookbooks and for solid recipes that work, and the chatter about digital has created such an appetite for books, period. I think a book is the anchor to everything else. Everything has its value. We have to just not panic. Publishers are confusing the delivery system with thinking people don’t want content anymore.
PW: What have been some of the most popular recipes on your site?
MG: Notting Hill Brownies, the Oprah Lemon Lime Cake, Montreal Bagels, Matzoh Caramel Buttercrunch, and Simply Irresistible Caramel Eclairs. The ones that are really popular I retire more permanently in a book.
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.