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Will Digital Editions Ever Replace the Printed Cookbook?

“I think people will want both,” says Edouard Cointreau. “The e-book is cheap, but they might want the high quality book for their shelves.”

By Edward Nawotka
ipad books
Digital cookbooks have enormous potential and have proven among the most popular apps online. Last year Jamie Oliver’s recipe apps were among the top downloads, in both free and paid versions, online. But it’s not just books from the most popular celebrity chefs that are attracting attention, it’s top shelf cookery training manuals, such as Inkling’s adaptation of The Professional Chef, the official textbook of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) have also proven popular.

As discussed in today’s feature story about the 3rd Paris Cookbook Fair, event organizer Edouard Cointreau believes cookbook publishing has a strong digital future, too. But he doesn’t believe digital editions will come to dominate and replace the printed cookbook. He thinks print and digital will complement each other. “I think people will want both. The e-book is cheap, but they might want the high quality book for their shelves. The Chinese group East Eat is bringing 40 people to the fair this year, as opposed to five last year. They sell 30 million cookery e-books a year.”

In the US, organizations such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals are acknowledging the growing importance of digital as well, and are including a Books & Bloggers Festival as part of their upcoming convention in April.

As appealing as digital cookbooks are, for the time being they have a fatal flaw: if you spill something on, or accidentally steam, or carelessly drop one of those pricey devices you use to access digital cookbooks, it’s game over for the fancy meal you planned that night. You might as well order carry out.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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  1. Trini Vergara
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Cook books are not just for cooking, but for reading recipes that you fancy, for looking at tempting photos that give you a hint of the pleasure of a possible eating experience… I go to bed with a cookbook as much as I go to bed with a novel… it is for the pleasure and the entertaining.
    Then , when I decide to cook, I bring to the kitchen a printed cook book, (hopefully that opens well on the table!) or a printed page of an internet recipe…
    Digital cookbooks? Excellent for my first purpose: reading, watching, planning to cook –the lighter devices the better, for me the Ipad is too heavy and my wrists get tired or my stomac gets pressed for too long, I prefer my blackberry tablet– , but for the kitchen? The tablet does not go there! My fingers are dirty all the time and I cannot touch the screen freely, whereas my cookbooks receive any little dirt, and I don’t care, you clean it or it leaves a memorable little stain that adds to its own life…
    But, on the whole, I spend more time reading cookbooks than taking them to the kitchen to actually cook (favors digital cookbooks) but also, a well designed and good quality printed page showing the best photo of a mouthwatering chocolate fudgy pie wins for a long distance over its equivalent in a small screen, where colors are generally too bright (favors printed books).
    What I don’t need to buy anymore are ugly and cheap cookbooks… and sure, I will keep spending, maybe even increasing my budget, in the best cookbooks, printed or digital!

  2. Doug Millison
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    The new kitchen will be the working cookbook, with interactive displays wherever necessary to guide a chef through recipe and ingredient selection (and re-order from online retailers), and preparation. A kitchen with a TV or computer can do this already. Printed cookbooks will always be treasures in a cook’s library, too.

  3. Christine
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Last summer I toyed with the idea of re-purchasing Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic of Italian Cooking” for my Kindle to use at the home I visited in Piedmont, but the sample text I received for the eBook version seemed cumbersome. Hazan likes to preface each recipe with about 100-200 words of the place of such recipe in the Italian cooking repertory, variations the reader might try, words of caution ,etc.. and that’s before the list of ingredients. In the book version all that is a pleasure to read, and easy to skip over or not, but browsing through it my Kindle they were a bit annoying. So I ended up bringing my hardcover copy with me and as always, it was a pleasure to use.

    Being a Hazan fan, I do also have some diet books on my Kindle and have cooked from the recipes in there, but the screensaver goes on within five minutes of lack of activity, so it is often necessary to turn the switch on again. In any case, it is advisable to bookmark any recipes to easily find later on, so for example, it doesn’t take you minutes to look up a steak recipe and go through all the pages that mention the word “steak.”

  4. Edward Nawotka
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    @Christine, those are really good points and “browsing” is terribly cumbersome on an ebook. In print, you can flip to the index and find exactly what you want. It’s an issue with any kind of reference book.

  5. Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I can see it quite easily, and therefore co-existing with the physical medium

    What still lets a lot of e-books down is that they are no more than printed text on a digital medium. When e-books start to take life with pop-ups, graphics, embedded video and other hyperlinked materials, the digital format will take on more of an existence that can provide for a different purpose from the physical hard back with all its rich colourful photography on the kitchen shelf or coffee table.

    The e-book will become embedded into a device in the kitchen, alternatively a separate device that might be ruggedised for the purpose, and it won’t take much to have a screen that can be disabled whilst wiping it.

  6. Posted March 6, 2012 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m biased, as I’m a developer of cooking apps, but I think both print and devices offer different experiences.

    I love cookbooks, turning the pages, getting lost in the prose of wonderful writers like Valentine Warner and, yes, wiping spillages, but not to carefully so as not to disturb the badge of honour a stain bestows.

    Equally I love the cooking app. To the person who won’t take their iPad into the kitchen, start using apps like ours that have voice control, just for sticky fingers. I love the way I can refer to my smartphone to see which ingredients I added to my shopping list – when I’m in the supermarket.

    There’s room for both. And as publishers will discover, digital versions of cookbooks can drive sales of the print version. And print versions can flag exclusive recipes to be found in the app (or to a lesser extent ebook – but they are normally a truly terrible experience for cooks).

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