The Tasty Bits Blog

Sep 10, 2014

The Death of the Cookbook

Food and Health  ·  

I have a few cookbooks around the house, maybe 100 or so, and truth be told, I will open only three or four of them more than once a month, and maybe another 5 or 6 once a year. The rest of them, I can't remember the last time I opened them. I tend to use convenient online resources the majority of the time now.

I doubt that I’m in the norm however, because cookbooks still sell remarkably well compared to traditional books and novels, and some publishers in 2013 reported their best cookbook sales ever. I think cookbooks are different because they are more than just text recipes; they are also perfectly planned pictures, staged and designed to be timeless. Despite the amazing quality of some of the new tablets and PC’s, these photos still seem to look better on paper; they just don't translate to digital as well as plain text does.

There is also a textural element too. There is something deeply comforting to a great many of us that we get from the feel of an actual cookbook (or real book too). Sliding it off the shelf and cradling its weight while searching the index or the glossary and flipping pages is something that most of us are familiar with.

But despite strong sales, I think the end is coming, and sooner rather than later. The era of making cookbooks digital, cheaper, more interactive, embedding real-time video, instructional audio clips and contextual help is very close. Sadly I suspect new technology and digital rights agreements will soon make real cookbooks a collector’s item, like music LP’s, resigning them to publishing on demand or by the few thousand.

Want proof? Go to YouTube and search for a recipe or cooking technique, say “Caesar Salad Dressing”. There are over 15,000 videos on making Caesar Salad dressing from scratch! While it’s true that many of them are stolen, or copied, or bad, there are hundreds more done by real chefs you have heard of (including me with over 89,000 views!). So which is easier; watching it done live, pausing and rewinding as needed or following text in a cookbook?

Is the move to digital a bad thing? I don’t know for sure, but easy digital storage means my 64GB iPad can hold thousands of cookbooks, with all of them searchable by name, ingredient, author, type of cuisine or a dozen other filters. Having instant access to that many thousands of recipes and cookbook authors has to be a good thing, right?

Still, despite the fact that I am happy to embrace technology and its advancements, there is still something that makes me smile every time I open up my slightly stained copy of Jamie Oliver’s first cookbook “The Naked Chef”, a gift from my wife in 1999, or my “Essential Asian Cuisine”, a cookbook we bought while visiting the Sydney Opera house. In the end I don’t think it’s the cookbook at all, but what they represent to us and an iPad will never duplicate that…

Do you have a favourite cookbook that you use regularly or just love to look at? Leave me a comment below.

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