What Cookbook Publishers Can Learn from the Music Industry

The similarities between the music and book industries tend to diverge when you examine the smallest possible component of each format: unlike songs, book chapters aren’t usually self contained.

But recipes are a different matter. A recent story in the New York Times looks at the upcoming Web site, Cookstr, which aims to catalog recipes from top chefs:

Cookstr, which will be supported by advertising revenues, will aggregate recipes from published cookbooks. All of the authors will have their own pages, with biographies, links to recipes and books, and in the case of restaurant chefs, links to their locations on Google maps.

Cookstr isn’t blazing new trails here: All Recipes, Epicurious, Big Oven, FoodNetwork.com and other Web outlets have built their sites around aggregation of individual recipes. But there’s still a silo-based mentality in play because
recipes are only free to roam within the boundaries of each site. This is equivalent to a record company only making songs available through its own proprietary service. As we’ve seen with the
success of iTunes, YouTube and most recently through Hulu, users flock to platforms that replace traditional boundaries with massive catalogues of material. Shoehorning content and users into a specific channel rarely works on the Web (iTunes is the exception), so the record labels eventually moved toward wide distribution across multiple platforms.

There are key differences between songs and recipes — paid downloads vs. free text content most notable among them — but a variation on the song model might work for recipes: sell advertising against publisher-owned recipe pages; allow standalone recipes to disperse with attached branding and pull-back opportunities; and use increased attention from wider distribution to deliver related products with built-in scarcity, such as traditional cookbooks, custom books, curated collections, cooking classes and events.

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