Since 1988, QVC, the trailblazing, hugely popular home-shopping television network with a companion Web site, has been selling books in the cooking, motivational, children’s, and design categories, marketing celebrity authors in much the same way it sells the other 1,400 items offered each week to its customers.
While cookbooks is QVC’s largest category, the network offers shoppers about six other new titles a year, with Suze Orman’s and Wayne Dyer’s books among the most popular. Isaac Mizrahi, who has a weekly QVC show; jewelry designer Judith Ripka; and the ubiquitous Kardashians all have exclusive design deals with QVC, and their books all sell well when pitched on the network by the authors. Cookbooks, however, lead the way in sales, with 14 million copies sold since the company’s book program began.
David Venable’s biweekly segment on QVC, In the Kitchen with David, is the network’s biggest show, largely responsible for the success the company continues to enjoy with cookbooks because of Venable’s homespun nature and his ability to select chefs and authors with camera-ready personalities. The big culinary names he’s hosted include Paula Deen, Lidia Bastianich, and Gordon Ramsay, who have all debuted cookbooks on QVC. “The personality of the author is what makes cookbooks sell,” said Doug Howe, executive v-p of merchandising for QVC, which is based in West Chester, Pa., and employs 8,000 people nationwide. “In addition, the vast majority of [cookbooks] are made available here for the first time on an exclusive basis.”
QVC sold its first cookbook, the Better Homes and Gardens Dieter’s Cookbook, in 1988, and almost a quarter-century later it carries about 70 cookbooks that can be bought through its Web site. Rather than simply being a transactional vendor, QVC has created a relationship sales model. “Our cookbook authors talk to our customers, so we’re selling a product and a personality,” said Howe.
Although the sales QVC generates on live television are bigger than those from its site, the company is seeing faster growth on its digital platform, which attracts more than six million unique visitors each month. In the site’s cookbook section, titles are broken down into such categories as bestsellers, customers’ top rated, and items recently on air. Its brands include not only well-known authors but publishers as well, including Simon & Schuster and Parragon Books.
To date, QVC sells only physical books, but that doesn’t prevent publishers from getting big sales. Christopher Kimball, founder of America’s Test Kitchen, said the company has sold up to 50,000 copies of an ATK cookbook in one airing. “But it’s hard to predict sales figures or to factor that into an initial print run,” Kimball pointed out. “You can sell 2,000 or 3,000 books or 10,000 or 15,000 in the same eight-minute time period. QVC can move more books in a short time than anyone else.”
It is QVC’s ability to offer intense promotion in a limited period that makes it a unique place to sell books. “There are only a handful of big cookbook accounts,” Kimball continued. “Costco, Amazon, Barnes & Noble—and QVC.” In 2010 alone, the network sold more than a million cookbooks, and over the years it has become a leading retail destination for celebrity chefs. Although discounted books is one of the perks QVC offers its customers, the exclusivity of big titles seems a more important draw. How long a title remains exclusive—and how cookbooks are actually chosen to be sold on the network—is decided in collaboration between QVC and the publishers, but ultimately, said Howe, “it’s the customers that decide,” according to the level of sales enthusiasm.
Exclusive this fall to QVC are Sweet Celebrations (HarperOne) by Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne, authors of The Cupcake Diaries, and Cooking Italian with the Cake Boss by Buddy Valastro (Free Press).