In 2015, entrepreneur Matthew Cockerill, publisher Jon Croft, and writer Nadia Arumugam launched the 1,000 Cookbooks project, which aimed to compile the best and most essential cookbooks of all time. The project has since evolved into a digital subscription service, called CKBK, which bills itself as the “Spotify for Cookbooks.” In early July, CKBK unveiled a Kickstarter campaign in anticipation of its commercial launch later this fall.
CKBK has raised more than $55,000 (surpassing its $25,000 goal), with more than 5,000 people signing up for the service's wait list. Kickstarter pledgers of more than $59 will gain access to the service in September as "Founder Subscribers," and Cockerill anticipates the broad commercial launch in October or November.
Like Spotify, for a fixed monthly fee ($8.99 in the U.S.), users can browse CKBK’s collection of more than 500 cookbooks, and 100,000 recipes, which Cockerill said was just a starting point. “We have a huge pipeline of content that we will add to the service as it grows,” he said. He and Arumugam serve as the founders, with Croft stepping back from day-to-day involvement. Cockerill leads the technical side of the business from London, while New York-based Arumugam heads up editorial.
Cockerill describes himself as someone with a “combined love of food, technology and science.” After attaining a PhD in biology, he left academia in 1995 to cofound BioMed Central, an open access scientific publishing model, which is now a part of SpringerNature. He left Springer in 2014, and felt there was a similar opportunity in the world of food. “Print cookbooks continued to be a successful area of trade publishing in print, but no one had yet taken the opportunity to make the best cookbook content radically more useful and accessible by bringing it together online with a flat monthly subscription fee,” said Cockerill. “This was simply crying out to be done.”
Authors on the CKBK platform include Tyler Florence, Rose Levy Beranbaum, and the duo behind Thug Kitchen. The platform is designed not just for accessing cookbooks by famous names, but, with “extensive crosslinks and recommendations” users can “‘fall down a rabbit hole’ to discover the best culinary content,” said Cockerill. Extra material includes reference content like On Food and Cooking, the Oxford Companions to both food and wine, and Auguste Escoffier’s L’aide Memoire Culinaire. Cockerill also turned to the estates of legendary culinary figures, like MFK Fisher and Marcella Hazan, to secure rights for content. "This has required extensive detective work on a book-by-book basis, but the end result is that we have build up an enviable library of 'lost classics' to complement the contemporary works licensed from publishers," said Cockerill.
CKBK has struck licensing deals with major publishers, including Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Workman, and Rodale, many of whom are among the beta testers of the service. New agreements are being signed on an ongoing basis, according to Cockerill. “The Kickstarter has triggered a flood of new licensing inquiries from publishers, in fact,” he said. “We certainly get the sense that publishers are recognizing this to be a model whose time has come.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Rose Levy Beranbaum's name.