PW: What are the demographics of today's cookbook buyers, and in what ways do they differ from their counterparts of 10 or 20 years ago?
Herman: Cookbook buyers are more sophisticated today than their counterparts of 10 or 20 years ago. They tend to know who the rising stars of the culinary world are, by reading magazines and newspapers but also by frequenting a broad range of restaurants. Today, the consumer buys cookbooks because they've seen the chef in any number of media, whether it be on Food TV, in Gourmet or in the pages of the New York Times.
Connolly: The long held belief that cookbook customers are, in the majority, women between the ages of 35 and 55 is still true, but less so. There are many more niche consumers who cross demographic lines and are, therefore, hard to categorize. Interestingly enough, a new generation that has traveled widely, dines out regularly and has a heightened interest in good food has not learned how to cook. Getting them to pick up cookbooks and venture into the kitchen, or to even help them understand the background of the dining experience, is the cookbook publisher's newest challenge.
Haller: Fortunately, we have a large demographic of cookbook lovers and buyers. As you would expect, our largest is women from 30 to 50, but we are seeing a large boom in "armchair cooks": people who don't have time to cook but love to read about cooking and to collect all the available beautiful books.
Binkley: There are definitely more men buying cookbooks today. TV personalities such as Emeril and Bobby Flay have helped shatter the stigma that the kitchen is a woman's place.
Weinberg: With the spotlight on male celebrity chefs and the image that cooking is hip and fun, there has been a sharp increase of men and children cooking. Consumers are now cooking for enjoyment and not just to feed their stomachs.
Waxman: We see only a relatively small number of people interested in just getting a meal on the table for the family every day. We do see a very adventurous bunch of well-heeled people who tend to be anywhere from their late 30s to around 50. They're cooking for fun.
Blume: Consumers today differ in terms of the sophistication of what they look for, both in design and in terms of what foods are being treated. Part of that is the demographic. The boomers know more, and they're looking to learn different things. As for people in their 20s and 30s, they're more style-driven than their counterparts of 10 or 20 years ago.
Rose: We notice there are people younger and younger who want to cook”it's just a younger demographic. There are lots of teens who are cooking”they come in with their families, and there's always one of them who likes to cook. And customers of all ages come in and say they don't know how to cook and want to learn”because "she's not doing it anymore."
PW: What are some of the subcategories gaining popularity and which are waning in popularity, i.e. losing readerships? Any notion of why some of these shifts are occurring?
Binkley: Grilling is definitely an upwardly mobile category, gaining popularity mostly due to the trend of men doing the cooking. Also, desserts, gourmet and vegetarian cooking are increasingly trending up. While many consumers are continuing to buy vegetarian cookbooks, meats have definitely made a big comeback. One particular trend being shown the door is the early '90s trend of "style over substance" cooking: cookbooks that put the emphasis on style and presentation, without very much concern for taste.
Staffel: There are more beginner-level and basic books coming out, which is terrific. I think that reflects a renewed interest in home cooking coming from a younger audience whose parents might not have cooked much. They don't know the difference between chopping, dicing and mincing. They don't know that making brownies from scratch d sn't take much longer than making brownies from a box. The best of these books explains and gives pictures.
Weinberg: The subcategories gaining in popularity are regional, ethnic, food-travel and equipment-related cooking. Subcategories losing readership are the no-fat books. This is because when people take the time to cook, they want the food to taste great.
Levin: Low fat is passÃ©. Eating fresh and light is now the more popular eating lifestyle. In general, Americans are practicing healthier eating habits.
Ekus: Certain categories have become more mainstream. Vegetarian was at first an oddity and then a cookbook category that really took off. More menu books are coming back. Dessert books are strong, but in specific categories, such as cookies or cake books.
Chirls: We see that there are some areas that are growing tremendously, such as baking and pastry. I think that the opportunities are much greater for pastry chefs today. For the past five to seven years there's been this focus on professional chefs, and they have become almost like celebrities. The industry is now turning its attention to pastry because it is the grand finale of the meal.
Gardner: There's more interest in Mediterranean cooking, and people are interested in North African cuisine. There's also more interest in unusual ways to deal with grains and beans. There's just more media coverage on health issues, making people aware. What there isn't much of now”and the one section I have trouble finding titles for”is books that deal with special appliances, like Cuisinart or food processors and microwaves. People are using them more in a variety of ways.
PW: What are the newest trends in cookbooks? What are the hot ingredients, tools and/or cooking techniques?
Binkley: Some of the newer trends are in regional cooking. In the continental U.S., Southern recipes and memoirs are in the forefront. Pacific Rim cooking seems to be picking up pace, with a focus on Hawaiian and Japanese cooking. With regard to cooking styles, more consumers seem to be trying their hand at sushi. Appliance cooking is also making a comeback. We're seeing good sales in pressure cooker, grill pan, BBQ and bread machine cookbooks.
Berman: This is the season for grilling, but this year these books are very, very big! PBS and Food Network books are in. Home entertaining is back. Vegetarian cooking is very big.
Martin: Meat cookbooks are big, bringing back all the things we've felt deprived of during the low-fat decade. People have been so busy learning how to cook artichokes that they've forgotten or never learned how to choose a good steak. The most popular technique? Without question, brining”soaking pork or chicken or shrimp in salt water to make it more tender and juicy. It used to be exotic to do that. Now almost every cookbook I edit has at least one brining recipe.
Connolly: Interest in ingredients is organic and multiplying tremendously. By that I mean that people are seeking out and incorporating into their cooking an enormous variety of foodstuffs, from ostrich to heirloom produce to exotic herbs and spices from around the globe. No fruit, vegetable or living creature is out of bounds.
Rose: Slow cooking is coming back. Pressure cookers are trying to make a comeback. And grills, all of a sudden, are popular. Wraps are out”that's come and gone. There are so many bar books now”that's saturated. Champagne books and party books for the millennium”I'm sorry, but I doubt they'll do that well unless they've been in the works for a while.
Levin: Trends might include more Caribbean, Flaribean (Florida and Caribbean) and South American. Sushi is rising in popularity. Other trends might include a reversion to simpler cooking”meaning fewer contrasting flavors in a single recipe.
Waxman: The leading trend is the movement toward South American food. It's happening in the restaurants, but publishers have resolutely closed their eyes to it. Americans do tend to have a blind spot regarding our Latin neighbors. But because of restaurants and because of the Latin populations in Florida and California, this is beginning to change. But publishers won't make the move until something else becomes popular. It's called "retarded bandwagonism." It's one of the reasons I feel hesitant talking about trends. There is a real disparity between what people are doing and what publishers are doing.
PW: What type of cookbook is dominating today's cookbook market?
Herman: Celebrity chefs, brand names and big, basic cookbooks are dominating the cookbook market today.
Connolly: Almost without question, the books with a personality behind them far outdistance all other cookbooks in terms of sales. There are exceptions, of course, such as Joy of Cooking and other classics. But from Julia and Jacques to Martha and Emeril the appeal and comfort a "cooking personality" provides the consumer is profound.
Katalinich: I'm seeing an emphasis on cookbooks by chefs, either celebrating the cuisine of the restaurant itself or focusing on the simple, home-style cooking of the individual. By extension, the books from TV star chefs are also gaining prominence. Let's face it, Emeril reigns.
Weinberg: The cookbooks dominating today's cookbook market are the single-subject books. From drink and dessert books to grilling and ice cream books, people want books for a single type of cooking and want to have lots of recipes in one volume about one topic.
Haller: General cookbooks with a basic or nostalgic bent tend to do the best (e.g.,. Better Homes & Gardens, Joy of Cooking, Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham).
Ekus: I see people going back to simple food. People are buying ingredients of better quality. They're buying locally, which explains the popularity of the farmers' markets. People are more experimental about all the different greens and different grains available now.
Waxman: One of the major features of books that people like is simplicity. Simplicity d sn't mean ease or quickness of preparation. It's the desire to get really, really good ingredients and to cook them in simplified ways. If you buy spinach, you want a recipe to tell you how to make the most spinachy spinach possible. We warn people that when they get Rozanne Gold's 1-2-3 cookbooks they aren't necessarily going to save time. It's the thought that you can put something together that's good without a complicated number of ingredients.
PW: Is the cookbook market saturated, and if so, where are the publishing opportunities? What food trends are passÃ©?
LeBlond: I don't think that the cookbook market is saturated. There are actually fewer cookbooks coming out now that there were five or six years ago, and publishers are more focused and doing a better job publishing them. The one subject that seems passÃ© is low-fat cooking”there was a huge glut of that a few years ago, and now fewer of those books are out there.
Berman: We are adding about 200 new titles every month and carry almost 8000 different cookbooks. Is that too many cookbooks? I don't think so. People always want something new and are enthusiastic about trying new recipes.
Krauss: No, I don't think it can ever be saturated because cookbook buyers are always looking for what's new, what's next, what's the very best possible way to make food taste great. And even if some elements in a cookbook might be familiar, a good author offers new ideas for presenting and combining foods that reflect our changing palates.
Gardner: A good portion of the people who come in and browse the cookbook section are looking for inspiration. And if the book has a lot of pretty pictures and it's received a great review, they want to come in and check it out. More people are willing to buy a whole book for a few recipes than I would've thought.
Haller: I don't believe the market is saturated at all. There is a huge market as long as the books are nicely produced and the recipes are easy to follow. We seem to sell less of the extremely complicated cookbooks that contain recipes with very hard-to-find ingredients.
Herman: Passe is "lite" and "quick." The market always has room for a popular name: Julia Child, Marion Cunningham, Alice Waters.
Waxman: There are two plagues in the area of quality cookbooks. One is what I call the SLBs”stupid little books. They're $9.95“$10.95 hardcovers, and if you look at the authors' credentials, you'll see they're probably art directors somewhere. The other is the series: Loving Tomat s, Loving Olives, Loving Potat s and so on. Not only are American publishers doing them, but overseas packagers are, too. Also, there should be a law about pasta books. The market is not saturated with books about adventurous kinds of cooking that explore new cuisines or use new ingredients. We get two or three requests a week for a book on the cooking of Chile or Costa Rica. It's not an issue of saturation but of editorial judgment. Unfortunately, editorial judgment is rooted in what's safe to publish.
PW: What are the favorite international/ethnic cuisines? Are there some international/ethnic cuisines that are underpublished? Overpublished?
Connolly: Traditionally, Italian, of all stripes, has been the big megillah of international cuisine. Perhaps Asian cuisine has been overpublished, in that all the regional varieties have been lumped together”and that's a shame. I am enamored of books that give us a sense of a time, place and people through the kaleidoscope of their cuisine.
Binkley: Italian continues to reign in the international cuisine book market. However, popular as it is, it's also the most overpublished. Asian cuisine follows in popularity, and now we're seeing more East meets West fusion. We would like to see more South American and African cuisine titles.
Blume: The favorites are the same ones that have been out there a long time: Italian and Mexican. Plus, there's been somewhat of a surge in recent years of Thai and Caribbean.
Ekus: Latin American and Mexican cookbooks are big. The ethnic populations in Florida and Texas have had something to do with that. Asian also continues to be strong. It's not that fusion cuisine is passe, but it has changed. It's not just a blend of Asian and French”now it's more unusual combinations. There is more attention paid to niche ethnic cooking. As people are doing more traveling, cookbooks do more than just include recipes. They put food in a historical context.
Krauss: The Mediterranean's choke hold on the international category seems to be loosening a bit”and consumers are definitely more willing to seek out unusual ingredients”but I don't see any one ethnic or international cuisine coming to the fore the way Italian has in the past decade.
Rafer: Italian, no question. I think there's a love for the ease of Italian food, and it's not pretentious. It's familiar yet there are all kinds of combinations that add up to a beautiful meal. And you don't need an enormous battery of pots and pans to produce it.
Staffel: Italian still rules. Maybe it's overpublished, but it's what people want. I love that we're seeing more regional Mexican cookbooks. I'm seeing more international vegetarian cookbooks, and I think that's terrific. There's still room for more cookbooks that simplify Asian and Indian cooking.
PW: What is the state of regional American cooking, as reflected in cookbook sales? How d s it compare to international cuisines?
Gardner: We have a lot of customers who collect cookbooks from Junior Leagues in regional areas. Southern is always popular, perhaps more popular than the Northeast. The Pacific coast is catching on as salmon is more widely available and people are preparing it differently. Outside of the Colorado cookbooks, the numbers for regional cookbooks are not quite as big as they are for the international cuisines.
Krauss: American regional cuisine has been quiet for a few seasons but is due for a comeback; there's so much interest now in tapping into our family roots, maintaining our sense of identity in this global world, that we're all looking back to the cuisines we grew up with.
Melville: At the moment, regional American food is more popular than traditional European cuisines.
Rose: Hawaiian is hot, Southwestern is huge and Southern is big. Creole and Cajun are lacking”there should be more books here. International is much more in demand than regional American.
LeBlond: We have had a lot of success publishing regional California books, such as Smoothies and Wraps. California is often the source of food trends, and because we're in California we are able sometimes to be aware of those trends sooner than anyone else.
Levin: Regional cooking is on the rise. Good regional books that are promoted well also sell very well; regional markets tend to be loyal to their local flavors. Sometimes Americans only think of East Coast or West Coast cooking and forget about the great cooking found in between.
Staffel: I'd like to see more regional cookbooks that celebrate local ingredients and seasonal cooking. That's happening in international cookbooks, and it would be good to approach regional books the same way.
PW: What do you perceive as opportunities for publishers with single-subject cookbooks?
Ekus: Single-subject cookbooks are definitely waning. They're often based on fads and may not stay out there a long time. You name a single subject, and I can tell you it's been done. A book on eggs? Caviar? A technique? You figure any way to cut it, and it's been covered. What's hot is brand-building. Brand-building of chefs. Corporate tie-ins are only beginning to be tapped. When a book is associated with Maxwell House, for example, the company will put its own money behind it.
Blume: The opportunity is there to publish those books under a recognized brand name. We're a publisher that's had a lot of success selling outside traditional channels”special markets, warehouse clubs, business-to-business, stamp sheets, catalogues.
Feldman: I believe that the best recipe for success for single-subject cookbooks is to provide the consumer with a compendium type of cookbook for repeated referral.
Krauss: Unlike the small, quick-take single-subject books of a decade ago, today these books must offer real content and value”again, back to the "Bible" approach.
Gardner: If they're inexpensive, then I know I can deal with them. Big, expensive hardcovers on a single topic don't sell as quickly.
Weinberg: The opportunities are tremendous for single-subject books. The books can get into nontraditional outlets, specialty stores and also into department stores, restaurants, gift shops and museums. They can be easily merchandised with kitchenware and houseware items in stores.
PW: It's said that people are dining out more than ever these days”why then are there more cookbooks being published and purchased?
Katalinich: A recent survey by the Food Marketing Institute found that 70% of shoppers eat out for dinner one or more times per week; the number of meals out increases among the younger shoppers, singles and men. Among those eating at home, many are dining on takeout or fast food. So, it's a perplexing question, and one with which food editors struggle. One of the answers, it seems to me, is that in this huge and fragmented country, there are still large groups of people for whom cooking every day is a necessity and a steady supply of new cookbooks helps answer the question "What's for dinner?"
Bell: A recent article in the Washington Post detailed the extremes that working mothers go to make certain that their families sit down to dinner together at least three times per week. The sanctity of the evening meal in America is up there with baseball and apple pie. Women shop late at night, make double portions and freeze half for later in the week, etc. Today's cookbooks are less fussy and help people get dinner on the table quickly and easily.
Berman: Some people just love to read a cookbook like a novel, while many other customers collect cookbooks. Cookbooks also make great presents and look good in the kitchen.
Chirls: People dine out to have the experience of enjoying food in a different establishment and enjoying the food of a particular chef. But I think that many people really have a great interest in exploring food in their own homes. You see some evidence of that in the number of courses offered all over the country for food enthusiasts.
Feldman: Cooking d sn't stand alone; it's part of everyone's lifestyle. People want simple recipes for great food to cook at home.
Herman: The popularity of restaurant/chef books reflects what we call "restaurant culture." Like the entertainment industry, consumers are more educated thanks to media coverage of restaurants and food in general.
LeBlond: I think that those two things run hand-in-hand. Americans are more and more sophisticated about cooking and food, and they are expanding their sophistication because they're eating out a lot. There's a huge market of people who don't buy cookbooks to cook from but to read from, so they can learn about the food they were served.
Martin: Dining out seems to have heightened people's desire for novelty and perfection at home, and they want recipes that can deliver that experience. Also, and perhaps more important, cookbooks are as much about reading and fantasizing and experiencing how other people do things in the kitchen as they are about cooking per se. That's why the books that are well written”the ones that make us laugh or move us in some way or teach us something”in addition to having good recipes, always do better than just recipe-driven books.
PW: How important is backlist? What sales levels would make it feasible to keep more backlist in print? How often are backlist books revised?
LeBlond: Many publishers publish cookbooks because they are such a good backlist category. The frequency of revisions depends on the book.
Blume: Backlist is extremely important. The level of sales necessary is really hard to measure because it depends on the book. But for the types of heavily illustrated, four-color books we do, we've got to sell several thousand to make it worthwhile. As for revisions, if it's health information that's critical for people to know, we're going to deal with that right away, in reprint. We try to redo our mainstay backlist books every five or six years.
Chirls: To us, backlist is extremely important. That's really how we grow and survive. We consider the Culinary Institute of America our publishing partner. Becoming a Chef is an example in which we had one book and from that came Culinary Artistry and Dining Out, and now new books are being written by both these authors. Every time we publish a book by these franchise authors, we find a rejuvenated interest in our backlist.
Krauss: Some of our cookbooks and entertaining books have been in print for more than a decade, which not only allows for continuing single title success but means we can build authors' careers over the course of several books.
Martin: More than half of our cookbook revenue comes from backlist. In many cases, a cookbook will take off a season or two after pub date. That can happen after a QVC appearance or when a title gets a great review on Amazon, and those sales can spark large orders in the chains.
Melville: Since we are a backlist publisher, we want to make sure the book sticks around. We'll keep in print anything that sells a minimum of 2000“3000 a year.
Rafer: Very. If you don't have a backlist, you don't have anything. New Basics came out a long time ago, and it still sells and sells. It still speaks to a current market.
Staffel: Backlist is still very important in cookbooks. And I don't know that they always need to be revised, either. Some of the charm of the books from the early '80s is that they're less afraid of butter. Here we are at the end of the '90s, and butter is becoming popular again. Go figure.
Waxman: In total sale dollars, our backlist accounts for well over two-thirds. Sales may be as high as 70%. We have 11,000 titles in our store, and of those about 40% are books no longer available from the publisher. When we hear that something we like is going out of print, we'll pick up the last 20 copies from the publisher so we can give ourselves a little insulation from the o.p. problem. When our sales rep told us that The Simple Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker was l.r.o.”being let run out”we dug in and bought a bunch of copies. For a period of more than seven years, we were the only people anywhere with that book. Eventually it was republished by Chapters. We got their first shipment when we were down to our last copy.
PW: What role are restaurant cookbooks playing in the market?
Melville: It's a popular category right now. Depending on the restaurant, they can be very successful. From a chef's point of view, they're like an expensive business card. It broadens people's interests in his or her food and restaurant.
Haller: Restaurant cookbooks are strong but can be a bit hit or miss, depending on the public knowledge and perception of the restaurant.
Binkley: Regionally, restaurant cookbooks play a leading role in the market. New York restaurants lead the pack, because they sell outside of their region. Consumers are becoming more familiar with the chefs, mostly through the media. Morning shows, newspapers and magazines have recognized that Americans have become more fascinated with food in the last couple of years and are featuring the hottest chefs in response.
Levin: To counterbalance the eating-out trend, entertaining at home is becoming in vogue again. I think people are becoming more motivated to make a recipe from a favorite or notable restaurant at home for a fraction of the cost.
Chirls: I would definitely identify restaurant cookbooks as a trend”there seems to be great interest in what individual chefs are doing.
Krauss: They are still commanding high advances and generate a lot of excitement in the industry, but it's rare that they follow through in terms of sales. It's very hard to generate sales for restaurant books beyond their immediate region unless the chef has a national presence, such as a TV show, and many restaurant books tend to be too demanding for home cooks.
Staffel: They're big sellers, but I think more of them are purchased as a souvenir rather than as a guide for tonight's dinner.
LeBlond: When restaurant cookbooks work, it's because buyers have been impressed enough with a dining experience to want to re-create it at home or, if the recipes are too complicated, they enjoy looking at the pictures and reading about the chef. But what really makes a restaurant cookbook successful in the long run is word of mouth. How well can you cook from it? Do the recipes really work at home? The ones that succeed are the ones where people have tried the recipes over time and they're happy with them.
PW: What about cookbooks by "star" chefs”those with their own cooking shows, for example? Why do you think certain chefs have been elevated to celebrity status? Will this trend last?
Chirls: A lot has to do with their ability to promote themselves. Charlie Trotter is an excellent example. He had his first book and then the PBS series, and then out of that came more books. I think many chefs build franchises around themselves. I can imagine at some point the publishing opportunities for chefs will slow down, however.
Krauss: This trend is definitely here to stay, although the individual faces may change over time. When chefs have a TV show, their viewers forge a kind of relationship with them; they don't just want to make gnocchi, they want to make Molto Mario's gnocchi or Ming Tsai's sesame noodles; it's almost like having dinner with a friend.
Connolly: Chefs have now become, in some manner, akin to sports stars. The star chefs are "brands" unto themselves with all the concomitant marketing and extensions of the chefs into product lines, endorsements and spokesperson roles as well as multiple restaurant line development.
Herman: I think that certain chefs have been elevated to star status due to their inventiveness, creativity and personality. Chefs are more aware now of marketing opportunities and publicity, and the best chefs know how to work with the media.
Katalinich: I suspect that the celebrity chef cult has not played itself out yet. Combine good looks, engaging patter and an actual point of view with our seemingly unending fascination with celebrities, and you've got a basic trend with staying power.
Levin: I think the evolution of the cooking show has had a positive impact on the cookbook publishing industry. Seeing meals being prepared on television makes the viewer think "Hey, I can do that!" As far as the status g s, there's not a simple equation that brings about celebrity, and there's no easy rule about using celebrity to sell more books.
Rose: A lot of the chef books come and go. People are wary of chef books: they are afraid they might not be able to find ingredients, etc.
Gardner: I think that when people recognize a name it makes it that much easier to make a decision. I think that”for the reason that we tend to make celebrities out of virtually everybody”this trend will continue for at least the foreseeable future.
Staffel: I think the trend will last, because right now our culture celebrates celebrity in every field”even certain e-commerce CEOs have been spotted in GQ! As far as celebrity culture g s, I think it's great that the chefs are getting their due. Maybe kids will aspire to be great pastry chefs instead of NBA players.
PW: What roles do health and nutrition play in cookbooks? In what direction are "healthy" cookbooks headed?
Blume: To us, two things are going on. People are somewhat less concerned specifically about low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium. They just want to know that, in general, the recipes are as healthful as they can be. But at the same time, people are becoming very interested in the specific curative aspects of various foods. It's this whole idea of "nutraceuticals": the notion that if I eat broccoli, or certain cruciferous vegetables, for example, it can forestall various diseases.
Feldman: As we've discussed, cooking has become a lifestyle activity; thus, health and nutrition information are key elements in most mainstream cookbooks. Low fat has consistently been a focus in the last few years. People don't separate cooking into a single activity; what they eat and how they cook it are both part of healthy living.
Berman: Every day a new theory and every day a new bestseller. However, for every winner there must be 50 fat-free cookbooks that do not sell at all.
Gardner: People are more conscious about what they eat. They like cookbooks that break down the calories, the level of salt, that kind of thing. I think the health issues are part of the reason why Italian food and Asian food are becoming more popular.
Bell: I don't look to cookbooks to be all things to all people. The best cookbook authors”Deborah Madison, Alice Waters, Mark Bittman, Jean-Georges Vongerichten”try to teach readers to trust their ingredients and prepare them as simply as possible without lots of sauces, cream or butter.
Haller: Health and nutrition are still motivators, but the window of time that you have to react to those trends is narrowing. Vegetarian cookbooks are strong with a much more general market than they ever have been. We continue to sell a lot of cookbooks that address specific illnesses and symptoms.
Martin: The direction is toward realism. Now that the novelty is gone, cooks are looking for realistic portion sizes that are still low in fat and sensible techniques and foods that are naturally healthful rather than engineered to be so by laborious efforts in the kitchen.
Waxman: It's difficult to say statistically, but it is interesting to me that healthy-eating books don't seem to be quite as central as they were. General cookbooks have simply migrated in that direction. After all, there aren't too many books anymore that call for half a stick of butter per person.
PW: How do sales of cookbooks vary from independent bookstores to chains to e-commerce to specialty stores?
Connolly: All of the above have a distinct, and different, approach to selling cookbooks. Independent bookstores are the mavens of the hand-sell and staff recommendations; chain stores provide a nonpareil depth and width of titles that people can actually pick up and peruse; e-commerce provides a "chatty" environment where consumers can find any title they may desire; specialty stores can provide both a "cross-merchandised" environment as well as the authority and experience to help the cookbook consumer make an informed purchase. They all can provide strong sales of cookbooks in their own right”each channel or outlet is a fundamental piece of the sales puzzle.
Feldman: While the mainstream cookbooks seem to sell in all channels, each sales channel has a slightly different specialized audience. Online consumers seem a bit partial to high-end, single-title specialty cookbooks; specialty retail stores often look for unusual "niche" titles. Some mass merchants appear to do well with mainstream, all-purpose substantial reference and brand-name cookbooks, while other mass merchants appear to excel at selling low-priced paperbacks. Chains are still the mainstay of all types of cookbook sales.
Chirls: Chains and online accounts are a critical part of our business because they're really everywhere. But in the cooking area, the independent stores are very important to us because our primary consumer often looks at independent stores, such as Kitchen Arts and Letters, where the owner has tremendous knowledge of the industry and of what the professional needs are.
LeBlond: All the different outlets are good in terms of cookbooks. An independent bookstore with a good cookbook section”and a buyer who understands cookbooks”can give recommendations on what to purchase. The superstores have huge cookbook selections, and a customer can go in there and find a lot of variety. E-commerce is useful because you can both focus your interest and find everything. And where special sales are concerned, we do very well in the gift and gourmet trade.
Melville: There is a lot of interest in the Internet; there are a lot of cooking sites on the Web. As a category, we are selling a lot of books online”probably in the same figures for both independent and chain stores.
Weinberg: The same type of cookbooks sell at independent stores and chains, although chains may have more room and sell more backlist books. Specialty stores have really taken advantage of the single-subject books being merchandised with other items such as electrical kitchen equipment.
PW: Do cookbook awards (James Beard, IACP, etc.) help sell books? Which are the most influential?
Ekus: To be given an award by one's peers is a great honor and a wonderful benchmark for consumers, but whether it translates into a lot of sales”I'm dubious. Also, the awards are recognized in the cookbook industry but not necessarily in the publishing industry. With more bookseller support, the impact could move up another notch.
Berman: New cookbook awards can make a book a bestseller and give it longer shelf life. I believe the awards are becoming more and more critical as more and more cookbooks are published each year.
Feldman: Cookbook awards are influential in that they add another dimension to the marketing of the title. The seals help the consumer recognize the integrity of the recipes and the book. They also make the book stand out to consumers browsing the shelves.
Gardner: People are always pleased to say "this is an award-winning book," but generally they buy a book because they read a review that said it's really good. I guess all those stickers on the front help some, but only once in the last year has someone asked for a list of all the James Beard winning cookbooks.
Herman: Not at all, unless they win both and the publisher knows how to exploit this through extensive advertising, publicity and retail.
Rose: Absolutely. Both of them do. People are really familiar with those contests and want to know who won, where the titles are on the list. We do window displays with the winners.
Staffel: I think they're equally influential. We definitely see spikes in previously slow sellers after the awards are announced. It's very gratifying.
Katalinich: I think the awards generate interest and awareness, but I'm not certain that they translate into actual purchases.
PW: What kinds of appearances sell books? Are traditional bookstore signings as effective as cooking demonstrations?
Levin: We have seen minimal returns from traditional in-store signings. Of course, it always depends on the venue and the amount of pre-event publicity, not to mention author popularity.
Blume: To the extent that we use them, we do better with demos than with signings, but then again, our cookbooks aren't so much author- or personality-driven as they are reflective of a brand name.
Connolly: The best appearance is one where you run out of books for the author to sign just as the last person in line asks for a signed copy. Wouldn't that be grand? On the whole, however, that's rarely the case. Cooking demonstrations are, by nature, the best appearance as the consumer gets to see the author in action. Chef events have become highly popular. Witness Gourmet Row at the Miami International Book Fair and the San Francisco Book Fair”the venues are packed when a favorite author is on stage. Demonstrations in cooking schools and specialty shops also can provide strong sales and market reaction. Have I mentioned TV?
Ekus: As far as the media g s, the local shows don't exist anymore. So how do you introduce authors to the public? We do a lot of Internet marketing. We make authors accessible to fairs. We used to do straight media, but now you need an event or a tasting. We get local coverage when we do a dinner where there are 80“120 people eating an author's food. Food and wine events can be good, as can cooking classes. Book signings are iffy”it's hard to get the numbers unless you're Jacques PÃ©pin or Julia Child.
Krauss: We find an author need not necessarily be cooking to connect with an audience in personal appearances. Sometimes simply passing samples of the food and opening up the floor to questions makes for a more lively event.
Rafer: If you've got a big name, then people will want to come. In-store appearances can be successful and demonstrations can draw people in, but they can also be slow and embarrassing as with any bookstore appearance. Bookstores are very important, and we'll do anything we can to help bring people in.
Rose: In our store, signings don't work at all; in L.A., people don't turn out for them. What works for us is when we take authors to our Hollywood Farmers' Market. It's a fun arena for the chefs.
Staffel: Any interaction with an author”whether through e-mail, an interview or in-person”helps sell books. I think customers are hungry for personalized contact with these new celebrities.
Bell: Unless an author is a celebrity, we rarely ask him or her to do in-store signings. With the demise of local morning TV in many markets, the traditional 10-city tour is not effective. Authors can do phone-in radio shows and print and online interviews from home. Cooking school demonstrations are important. And of course, everyone would love to have Matt Lauer try their food.
PW: What are today's cookbook buyers demanding in their books (e.g., more color photos, more nutritional data)?
Bell: Cookbook buyers want recipes that work. Mistakes cost time and money. Who needs another picture of a roast chicken that's been undercooked to look right in front of the camera? I just want the goofproof recipe for the roast chicken. When I teach classes in How to Get Your Cookbook Published, I ask students what they look for in cookbooks; they invariably answer "color photos." Then I ask them to name their favorite cookbooks and they say he Silver Palate books, Joy of Cooking, Fannie Farmer, Classic Italian Cooking. "Gee," I say, "none of those have color photos."
Connolly: Today's cookbook consumers demand a well-designed, visually appealing, editorially sound and well-penned book that speaks to their interests. It is a simple formula that is terrifically difficult to execute. All the elements must come together in that ineffable fashion to make the whole effort a success in the eyes of the marketplace.
Ekus: People want photographs. Chef books need photography because so much is tabletop design and presentation. Not every book needs photography, but photography sells because food is so sensual.
Katalinich: Cookbook buyers want it all”great writing, trustworthy recipes, astonishing color photos and all the background data, including a great index. All for a good price.
Blume: It g s beyond demanding more color photos or more nutritional data. They have the expectation that the book they're picking up is going to be very high value, that it's going to offer them something more than they already know”that the photos have a style to them, that there are special tips and techniques, a special index.
Rafer: In general, they want clear recipes. They don't want to feel they can't find the ingredients. And they want easy steps and to know the recipe won't require hours of preparation.
Weinberg: Today's cookbook buyers want color photos, an appealing jacket and a good price on the book.
PW: Is there any particular direction cookbook formats are taking, and how important is background information or artwork vs. actual recipes?
Weinberg: Cookbooks are becoming more reading books packed with culinary history, tips and interesting facts. They're not just a bunch of recipes pulled together anymore. Background information about the recipes is essential. People are curious about cooking and want to know where the recipes come from, why certain steps are taken and how they can be modified.
Bell: Like novels, cookbooks can take you somewhere you've never been or allow you to revisit certain memories. Culinary history, technique and ingredient information and anecdotes are just as important as the recipes. A collection of recipes without a story just d sn't make it anymore.
Haller: Background information and regional photography work well for ethnic food (e.g., French and Italian), but in American cookbooks, it's not as sellable.
LeBlond: Nothing takes the place of good recipes”whether long or short, all cookbooks succeed or fail based on the actual recipes. After that, I think it makes a big difference whether there are color photographs. Beautifully designed books with color photographs have a natural advantage.
Rafer: First and foremost, recipes are important. I like the other stuff, but if you don't have the recipes, then what's the point?
Binkley: The recipes have to be good. Cookbook sales are being driven more and more by media reviews as well as word of mouth. So they have to work. To make their books stand out from others, more authors are including memoirs or sidebars of information.
Waxman: When you have a specialized store, the background information is the real substance. People want a greater sense of where the food comes from. They want material on the cultural links of the recipes. Lots and lots and lots of our customers are readers. We have a book on eating traditions of the Renaissance and another on gastronomy and the plays of MoliÃ¨re.
Berman: I see more and more concern for selecting binders that lay flat on the table and more books that have a recipe on just one page. I see two types of cookbooks: ones to use and ones to read. How can you cook from a 10-lb. coffee-table book? But they sure are interesting to read!
PW: How has the Internet helped the marketing of cookbooks? Do you perceive greater sales because of the Net?
Bell: The Internet has been a real boon to cookbook sales, because you can read and trust what other customers have to say about the recipes. If 10 people take the time to write a review on Amazon.com that Patti LaBelle's Macaroni and Cheese is to die for, then that means something. Word of mouth is still the best publicity.
Ekus: There's a huge opportunity to market online. We're doing a lot of Internet promotions to food sites and directly to consumers as well. We're able to send press releases and information to 18,000 consumers who have an interest in food and wine. Results are hard to determine, but is that so different from marketing an author on the Today show? It's just another vehicle.
Feldman: Marketing cookbooks on the Internet and selling cookbooks on the Internet are two different things. Online provides increased exposure in general. The online retailers provide consumers quick review of many titles, regardless of where the actual purchase is made.
Haller: The Internet seems to help in promoting the titles and as a marketing tool to bring people into the store, but people still seem to want to touch the book, feel its weight, see the photos before they make the purchase.
Binkley: Food Web sites are becoming increasingly more popular. What better way to try out a couple recipes to see if you like them before you buy the book? I believe that the Net will help drive more interest in food and cooking, therefore increasing sales at bookstores.
Krauss: One way the Internet has impacted the sales of cookbooks is by making it easier for consumers to get ingredients that were once available only in large cities and ethnic markets.
Martin: In the past year and a half, our cookbook sales on the Internet have gone from zero to being extremely important. For instance, Pam Anderson's The Perfect Recipe had modest advance sales in the spring of '98 when we published it, but the cookbook buyer of Amazon featured it in her newsletter and it climbed to near the top of the Amazon list. That attracted the interest of QVC and chains, and now sales are more than 90,000.
Rafer: On the Net, you can interact in a nice way. It has a nice at-home quality to it, and they make it easy to shop. As more and more people go online, we'll see how that will play out.
Berman: I'm very bullish on cookbooks on the Net. Remember, not every town has a big-box bookstore”yet!
PW: What roles should authors take in partnering with their publishers to market their books?
Connolly: The loneliness of the long-distance runner is paralleled only by that of the cookbook author. Authors must be relentless in their pursuit of marketing themselves and their books to their fans. The competition is fierce. A publisher's promotional budgets for cookbooks are modest, and authors must take up the slack wherever they can. Go to cooking schools, gourmet shops, independent bookstores, anywhere you can convince someone that you are what they need in their store to not only drive sales of your book but other books as well.
Herman: Authors should help set up their own cooking demonstrations and appearances and keep up their marketing efforts after the publisher can no longer support them with human resources.
Martin: Publishers talk so much these days about cookbook authors with "platforms"”their own restaurants, TV shows and mailing lists”that we often forget all about the value of personal appeal. The author who can hand-sell books the old-fashioned way still counts”people are more inclined to buy a book if they can taste a recipe and get a personal connection with the author.
Weinberg: Authors should take an active role in partnering with publishers to market their books. Offering to call their own personal contacts, looking into doing signings at bookstores, appearing at local organizations, tying their title to charity events, teaching at cooking schools and writing freelance articles about the topic of their book for print media”all help sell the book and spread the word.
Melville: Authors should play a big role. Ongoing sales will last long after the publisher has done its initial push if the author plays a role.
Rafer: It's very important. We've been very fortunate because we have a bunch of authors who really understand their part in promotion, and they're all very good at it.
Levin: My biggest recommendation to authors is to be open to creative publicity opportunities. A flexible schedule and willingness to prepare recipes from their books for bookstores is a big plus. Also the radio-interview circuit is an effective avenue for marketing cookbooks.
LeBlond: A committed, proactive author is the most important component in the marketing of a given cookbook. An author who sits back and expects the publisher to do everything is making a mistake. Authors have contacts, relationships and experience they can bring to the marketing of their book that the publisher can't. They should work with the publisher as a complete partner in the sales and marketing of their book. Every publisher has
several cookbooks coming out each season, but the author has only one.
PW: If you could offer publishers a single piece of advice about this category, what would it be?
Rose: Make sure the recipes are tested! A pet peeve of mine is that a publisher will take a book, print it and not test it!
Berman: Many recipes in these books still do not work. More testing is needed, and more in-depth reviews would send a message to the writers and
publishers. The big guys need to keep from shifting imprints; even some of their marketing people get confused what books they are selling at the
moment. Design cookbook covers that look good in the store but also look good on the Web. Cookbook catalogues need to be available in digital form, and publishers should set up book update programs. For new authors, find a niche market to promote the books: show why the new book is different from all the others. Finally, do not sell direct on the Internet!!
Ekus: Market your books longer. Give them more time. Most books don't get much of a chance. Publish fewer books and publish them longer.
Haller: Spend the extra money to keep production quality very high. Cookbook lovers will absolutely pay more for high quality and value and will absolutely ignore poor quality regardless of how fantastic the price.
Binkley: Strive to publish comprehensive, timeless, quality classics. Be sure to stand behind your book.
Gardner: The books that ultimately sustain interest are those that are well done and offer recipes that are both timely and timeless. People are looking
at a beautiful hardback cookbook as an investment and they want something that's going to be good for quite a while. I think it's the quality of the
recipes that people are looking for.
Staffel: Test the recipes and spend some money on an index-and make those indexes easier to read!
Waxman: Pursue quality as opposed to having nothing against it. Return to risk-taking. Publishers publish what they regard as safe. They want the money in the bank, guaranteed. That means big names and subjects that are not too specialized. They want a given book to be all things to all people with the hope that it'll find a larger audience. Also, remember that cookbooks are backlist books. The o.p. rate for cookbooks is terrifying.
Give cookbooks a chance. Don't run for the exit.