The International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) 2012 Annual Conference has just wrapped in NYC. The conference included five days of programming on everything from ancient grains to building the ultimate digital food platform, all of which offered highly relevant information to attendees. One session that was of particular interest (and in which I took part) was the panel on The Modern Cookbook, which examined the present and future of food and cookbook content.

The takeaways were many-fold and spanned a variety of topics, both the practical as well as the theoretical. The most relevant of these was a call to action for the entire industry from Matt Sartwell of Kitchen Arts and Letters, where he extolled the virtues of experimentation and differentiation: “Don’t just follow the content marketplace, or else we’ll all end up with local, sustainable cupcake books made in the slow cooker.” While this elicited a ripple of laughter from the audience, the point was well-taken.

Kirsty Melville of Andrews McMeel proclaimed 2012 as the year of the tablet, especially related to downloading and viewing food and cookbook content. To be sure, the launch of the Amazon Kindle, the continued strong sales of the iPad, paired with publishers’ continued investment in fixed layouts and new formats means that tablets could indeed become the preferred form of content consumption. Jeremy Greenfield from Digital Book World also corroborated this increase in tablet ownership to an uptick in sales across the children’s literature marketplace. Extrapolating out, Greenfield explained that he could see a similar uptick in cookbooks with tablets as formats and enhancements continue to evolve.

Weighing in on the side of digital recipe platforms, Judith Dern from All Recipes explored some of the challenges of balancing a free content approach with revenue-generating opportunities. She shared results of All Recipes’ initial tests in the ebook marketplace, offering 100 recipe ebooks for anywhere from $3.99-$7.99, and in some cases selling as many as 10,000 copies of particular ecookbooks. The key here, she said, is in curation and that fact that the All Recipes editors had chosen particular recipes from the site for their quality and utility. To which Matt Sartwell chimed in saying “people will still pay for content where there is a thoughtful approach to development and curation.“

Panelists also shared various experiments in the digital space that they had done with particular books, including everything from bundling print and ebook, to offering ebook downloads at a reduced price to raise consumer awareness. The main takeaway from the session was just that experimentation was key. The buzz phrase in the industry is to “fail forward” and learn from those mistakes. But, judging from the positive perspectives of panelists, the news was that it is tricky, but not impossible to build a future in this new food world.