The sweet taste of sales success

anna coogan on why cookbooks sell so well, even though we can find thousands of free recipes with the click of a mouse

It would be difficult to dispute the charms of a well-chosen cookery book. Not only can they be precious keepsakes -- special ones, complete with added scribbles and dog-eared pages, are often passed down through generations -- but they also make near-perfect gifts.

Obviously, they're remarkably practical, too. But for many, that's the least of their attraction. It is the promise of improved flavours and lifestyles that seduce the cookery-book junkie.

We're all aware of the industries struggling in the wake of the internet, such as music and film. Yet publishing has arguably been hit the hardest, including the book market, with people just not buying as many books as they used to.

According to Nielsen, the consumer trend company, our book market fell in 2010 to €147.7m in print sales with 13.7m units sold, compared to 2009 when€156.5m and 14.6m units sold.

When it comes to cookbooks, there's also the fact that recipes are now available for free on hundreds of thousands of websites and blogs.

So is it any wonder that many in the past have predicted the gradual death of the cookery book?

Also, sales of ebooks have soared (sales increased by 366pc last year), and many have assumed that foodies will hurry to replace their colourful cookbooks with a Kindle.

So it's startling to learn that the sales of cookery books have never been better.

"The food and drink sector has been one of the most reliable sectors of the book market in recent years," says Philip Stone, charts editor at The Bookseller, the UK magazine which reports news on the publishing industry

Nicki Howard is deputy publisher at Gill & Macmillan, which last week published Catherine Fulvio's new book Eat Like An Italian. The cookbook has a cover that looks like it belongs more to a book about Hollywood screen royalty than to a traditional cookery book.

Nicki says: "All the rules regarding publishing have changed and we feel cookbooks is one section which can hold its own in the digital world.

"It's why we've made the design of our cookbooks more high-end this year, using higher quality photography and paper," says Nicki, who will also publish cookbooks by Domini Kemp and Neven Maguire this year.

There's no doubt that the prettification of cookbooks is also being led by the recognition that consumers yearn for a feelgood factor in these tough times. Rachel Allen's new book Cake is as well put together and as easy on the eye as any art catalogue.


It would appear that people are buying more cookbooks because eating out is one of the first luxuries to go in tough times.

Also, titles such as 101 Ways with Chicken are less visible on shelves, and instead there is a demand for tomes full of colourful, uplifting and aspirational images and dazzling prose.

It's using the cookery book as an escapist experience, with many buying them in a similar way they would do a coffee-table book.

Nicki says: "People want beautiful cookbooks, they want cookbooks with a feelgood factor. We've been publishing cookbooks for 40 years and this year we have our biggest cookery book list ever.

"It's remarkable when you consider that just about every recipe is available free online," she says. Meanwhile, the very notion of ebook cookbooks has been questioned by Julie Powell (of Julie & Julia fame) who while checking out the merits of having Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking on her iPad, opened a copy of the book and came across a big purple stain smeared across one of the recipes.

Powell concluded, "Certain books need their weightiness, their awkwardness, to take on their full meaning."

Maria Dickenson, head of book purchasing at Eason, said: "Christmas is traditionally the time when cookbooks sales soar, yet so far this year this category is worth €2.4m which represents 177,000 individual units.

"I feel cookbooks are holding their own, and they currently represent 8pc to 9pc of our overall sales -- fiction is the highest at 25pc, and next is children's books at 20pc.

"Last year, sales of cookbooks reached €2.8m and I expect sales of cookbooks this year will exceed that figure."