Monday, November 03, 2008

Selling Cookbooks by Giving Away Recipes

I'm an avid cook and am the person responsible for the grocery shopping and cooking at our house. An article entitled "A Plan to Sell Cookbooks: Give Away Recipes Online" in the Saturday New York Times caught my eye. Reporter Motoko Rich writes about a site called Cookster that draws on recipes from chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Mario Batali and a hundred or so others. Each recipe will appear on a page with a picture of the chef and links to places to buy the book. Users will be able to search the site using a multitude of criteria. Founder Will Schwalbe said the site will go live with 2,500 recipes and he hopes to expand it to 10,000.

The aim of the site is to sell more cookbooks. It is hoped that by giving recipes away as samples, people will buy the books. This business model has worked very well for Martha Stewart and Rachel Ray, neither of whom are participating. Not surprisingly Cookstr will be suppored by advertising revenues. In another nod to the Web 2.0 world, publishers said they hoped the site would draw attention not only to new books but also to old ones ( no mention of the long tail in the article!).

On the face of it, the idea shows some promise. If a cook likes a recipe they may come back and buy the book. It seems the real challenge is in getting attention on the web. The article mentions epicurious, foodnetwork and allrecipes as competing sites and I use them all. I wonder how Cookstr will break through the clutter. Just as with products for B2B professionals, you need to understand the workflow of your customer. When I go to cook something I'm looking for a recipe like pot roast. I don't start out thinking about how Bobby Flay or Emeril Lagasse make it. My guess is that Cookstr will have to spend heavily on recipe key words to break through and this may be a daunting task.

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