As cookbooks come up against increasing competition from online recipe repositories, Web sites have sprung up attempting to reinvigorate the medium. There’s Cookstr’s database of cookbook content, Cookbooker’s social network for people to rate and review cookbooks, and now, Eat Your Books, a site that purports to make the cookbooks you already own more useful to you. Because there’s nothing worse than having a shelf full of cookbooks but no way of knowing instantly whether or not they contain a recipe for beef stew.
Eat Your Books is based on the idea that it’s easier to search the Internet for recipes than your own cookbooks, so it searches your cookbooks for you. Once you’ve added cookbooks to your virtual shelf on Eat Your Books, you can search through them by recipe name, type (e.g., chili, frozen desserts, soups), ingredient, occasion, ethnicity—in other words, many of the criteria that an online recipe site provides. The more cookbooks you’ve added to your bookshelf, the more recipes there are available to you, and there’s no limit to how many cookbooks you can put on your shelf. Eat Your Books doesn’t actually post recipes, but it does catalog every recipe in a given cookbook, and will give you the ingredient list. So far, the site has 16,112 cookbooks and 195,233 recipes indexed.
Jane Kelly (pictured, right) and Fiona Nugent (pictured, left), who are sisters, launched Eat Your Books in September. Kelly lives near Boston and handles the site’s content; Nugent manages the tech side from her home in New Zealand. After a career in television in the U.K., Kelly created CookeryBooks.com in that country, but when she moved to the U.S. 10 years ago she found it too difficult to compete with Amazon. With a cookbook collection of some 800 titles, she came up with the idea for Eat Your Books. “I kept thinking, ‘I wish I had a database of all the recipes [in my books].” She looked for site that would help her do that but only found ones where you had to enter all the recipes yourself. “If you have more than 30 cookbooks,” Kelly said, “that is a huge amount of work.”
That explains why using Eat Your Books—aside from a 30-day free trial—costs money. Kelly said she and Nugent looked into scanning recipe titles and ingredient lists, but that keying them in manually was more effective, so the company employees freelancers to do data entry. A one-year membership to Eat Your Books is $25, and for now, a lifetime membership is $50.
Eat Your Books is constantly adding new cookbooks to its database, and responds to requests from members. And some publishers have begun sending the site advance copies of finished books. Kelly said in the future she hopes to post videos of cookbook authors doing demonstrations, and information on author tours.
So far, Eat Your Books’s membership is “in the low hundreds,” says Kelly. Despite slow growth, at least Kelly’s personal wishes have been fulfilled: “You get in a bit of a rut and cook the stuff you know because it’s easier and quicker. Now, you’ve got so much choice for doing interesting, new stuff. I didn’t use my cookbooks enough before because I didn’t have the time.”
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.