Last year America’s Test Kitchen had two New York Times bestsellers, The Science of Good Cooking and Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. Together with Slow Cooker Revolution, the title helped the Brookline, Mass.-based cookbook and magazine publisher sell more books at retail than it has in many years. This fall, ATK (which owns such magazines as Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country) anticipates another boost in retail stores. Not only is Pressure Cooker Perfection off to a strong start with over 100,000 copies in print since its March release, but volume 2 of Slow Cooker Revolution is just out and the press is about to release its first photo-driven cookbook, The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook, with 2,500 color photos. It launches next month with an 80,000-copy first printing.
The 832-page oversize cookbook, which Jason Smith, co-owner of The Book Table in Oak Park, Ill., predicts will be his store’s biggest book of the year, grew out of one of ATK’s largest projects in recent years--the 2011 opening of its online cooking school. To create the school, which was built by Barry Kelly, v-p of technology, product development, who also built the online music school for Berklee College of Music, under the creative leadership of Jack Bishop, editorial director of ATK, the press created thousands of visual assets. Directions on making a pot roast, for example, could take as many as 50 or 60 photos. Given the availability of so many photos, ATK design director Amy Klee suggested that the press repurpose the photos for a book. Even so ATK had to shoot nearly 825 more photos to add some foods not yet covered by the online cooking school, like quick breads.
It took a full year for ATK to develop The America’s Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook with 600 recipes and step-by-step photos, tricks of the trade, and common mistakes. Although it is much more visual than ATK’s other books, Bishop says, “I don’t want to underplay the words. That’s the genesis.” From a business perspective, he sees a lot of synergy between the book and the school, which has signed up 5,000 students to date for either a monthly subscription or for one with an added fee that includes personal assistance. An onboarding process enables ATK to direct cooks of different levels to classes that will help them reach their goals. Typically students attend the online school for eight to nine months.
For now though, ATK is looking to use its online presence to drive offline sales at bookstores like Brookline Booksmith, which is located close to ATK’s offices and its 2,500 sq. ft. kitchen. “In general, we do well with their books,” says manager and co-owner Dana Brigham. “We expect to do really well with this one.” ATK founder and head Christopher Kimball, host of the company’s cooking shows on PBS, America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen will do a seven or eight-city tour. There will also be a blog tour, social networking, and a direct-mail campaign.
“Next year, we want to think if this will work as a textbook. We think there’s a lot of back and forth synergy,” says Bishop, adding that ATK is in the midst of migrating its Web sites. Early in 2014 it will have the capability to bundle a book and access to the school. But the press didn’t want to wait to release the book, which can be used on its own.