Growing up, I have vivid memories of watching a show on the new Food Network channel which featured Sara Moulton, and viewers who would call in live and ask questions while she cooked. This whole thing was FASCINATING to me and really sparked my love of food, recipes, and cooking. And at the end of the show, there was always a text screen that would pop up with the address to Food Network where you could mail a self-addressed stamped envelope and $3.95 to receive the recipes from the show.
That was 1997. Fast forward 20 years and the landscape of food, recipes, and television is completely change. One of the chief disruptions was the internet.
Today we have zillions (a technical measurement term) of food blogs. Zillions. If you want a recipe for chicken, you no longer need the cookbook 365 Ways to Cook Chicken, you just need to google “chicken recipe” or “chicken marsala recipe” or “non-alcoholic chicken marsala recipe with potatoes”. The internet has created a very large open source cookbook. So what does that mean for cookbooks and food television channels and sending away for recipe cards?
The publishing industry as a whole took a hit when it comes to the disruptive nature of the internet. And in 2010, “a dark mood began to press down on the hardback cookbook industry” and the Vice President of Ten Speed (an independent book publisher bought by Crown Publishing in 2009) Lorena Jones, called it “a prevailing sense of doom.” How would the print world compete with a world of $9.99 eBooks! Yet, they have.
The LA Times speculated that the worry of splashing “boiling hot oil on a $300 gadget” was part of it, but looking further, cookbooks are often only used as step-by-step guides as one of the final uses. Instead, cookbooks are now coffee table books, with gorgeous photos and stories; they are inspiration pieces, allowing home cooks to gain a thread of an idea to start with; they are conversation pieces, as celebrity and chef alike put out a new one each year; and they are treasured heirlooms, remembering everyone from grandma to Julia Child.
The television giant hasn’t slowed down yet, and the internet has only helped the channel maintain a spot at the top. Remember when young 10 year old Colleen was sending away for recipes? Well now she watches a LOT of Food Network, and makes a lot of recipes she gets right off the internet. No subscription, no stamps, no waiting weeks for the mail. It has brought the channel even further into the home.
They have an app, all social media channels, and strong engaged following behind their television stars. They have a magazine, interactive website, and owned by the Scripps Network, multiple other channels hosting more food and lifestyle programming.
Another big disruption has been food bloggers. I am pretty sure my earlier measurement of a zillion as pretty accurate because everyone from professional bloggers, attached to food product or service companies and magazines, all the way down to the everyday home chef with an internet connection, can start a blog. You can access the internet for free, download the recipe, see a step-by-step guide – and even some commentary on what worked best, and where to find hard ingredients. It’s like a cookbook plus a friend to help you through it! And with the social network Pinterest, sharing content has never been easier.
The most recent explosion of tech have been the Tasty videos from Buzzfeed (which you could do an entire blog on)- and then an avalanche of step-by-step videos to follow – which further reinvented how users were accessing recipes through the internet. And with new tech, comes the thought that soon there could be opportunities with virtual and augmented reality, interactive cooking with live feeds, and more.
I love cooking and I love recipes. I have an inappropriate amount of cookbooks in my apartment for the amount of space I have and for the bandwidth I actually have to cook lately. But I am often on Pinterest, looking at food blogs, and grabbing recipes from the internet. Yet, the food publishing industry isn’t going anywhere soon. Now, by embracing what technology is offering consumers, they have put cookbooks in two categories, use me and collect me. From there, technology is only complimenting the books and television shows where we consume food with our eyes – and then get insanely hungry, a grab one of those books or search for 365 ways to cook chicken.
For a great long read on the cookbook publishing industry and chef who tried (and succeeded) in getting around it, the team at Alinea (amazing Michelin star restaurant in Chicago) wrote for Medium on how they self-published their cookbook.