Exploring the Future of the Cookbook

Cookbooks are adapting to the e-book. Will home cooks follow?

In 2012, more than a dozen cookbooks were produced by local restaurants and dessert spots—including Dahlia Bakery, Skillet, Macrina Bakery, and Molly Moon’s. Several books from area eateries hit the shelves this year as well: Hot Cakes’ Autumn Martin and Plum’s Makini Howell both released theirs in April. Seattle-based publisher Sasquatch Books produces the lion’s share of local culinary titles, and this fall will release one featuring vegan and gluten-free pie recipes from Flying Apron founder Jennifer Katzinger; a Trophy Cupcakes recipe and party-idea book; and an Ivar’s cookbook coinciding with the area seafood chain’s 75th anniversary.

While a growing number of readers access fiction and nonfiction onscreen, some local sales figures indicate that many still prefer to use or gift cookbooks in their physical form. According to Sasquatch Books Executive Editor Susan Roxborough, on average less than 10 percent of Sasquatch’s total cookbook sales are generated from e-books. The company began producing e-versions of their cookbooks in 2010. Since then, popular backlist titles have been added as e-cookbooks.

Roxborough uses an e-reader for everything except kids’ books and cookbooks. “I think cookbooks can be very personal,” she says. “When I was a child, my mother used to cook frequently from a Wesson Oil cookbook. In my mind’s eye I can still see her dog-eared, splattered, scribbled-in book. ”

Book Larder, the popular community bookstore and class space in Fremont, is brimming with new and used hardcover and paperback cookbooks, plus other food writing. Owner Lara Hamilton says customers range from new, young home cooks to working chefs. Book Larder’s current business model is built on the lasting value of the physical cookbook.

“Generally e-book technology is still hard to use in the kitchen if you are someone who likes to flip back and forth in a recipe while you’re cooking. And in my own experience, the screen of my device goes dark just when I need the recipe most and I’ve got dough all over my hands,” Hamilton says. “There’s also an emotional connection that some people feel with their cookbooks that e-books don’t quite fill yet.”

Although the transition from print to e-book might be slower for cookbooks than it has been for other genres, there has been some innovation. Lark chef/owner John Sundstrom embraced a forward-thinking publishing model with his 2013 release Lark—Cooking Against the Grain. The James Beard “Best Chef Northwest” winner embarked on a yearlong project that resulted in a handsome self-published hardcover book, app, and e-book for Kindle and soon iBook. The locally printed hardcover costs $50, with a companion app priced at $4.99 through the end of May (it will eventually cost less than $10) and a Kindle edition available for $17.99. All three formats give readers access to each of the nearly 150 recipes.

Sundstrom produced his book in partnership with web developer and former professional chef Jared Stoneberg. “We developed the Lark cookbook using the guiding principle that the content should stand alone and that, whenever possible, the delivery platform should not drive the design process,” Stoneberg says.

In a recent post on Medium, Sundstrom predicts that instead of being eliminated, cookbook formats will integrate. He writes, “Cookbooks hold a special place in people’s hearts and in book collections, and I don’t think new technology or devices will ever entirely replace the look and feel of a beautiful, well-made book. But with tablet-sized devices becoming more and more prevalent, we thought we should break into that market too.”

It makes good sense for publishers to cover their bases and roll out feature-rich accompanying e-books and apps sooner rather than later. Stoneberg reports that sales of the printed Lark cookbook and app have both been strong. He thinks the print cookbook will remain but become secondary, though that process might take awhile. “Currently the rich feel and personality available through print is superior to what is available through typical electronic equivalents,” Stoneberg explains. “The tools available to e-book creators are very young still.”

Book Larder’s Hamilton thinks it’s too early to predict what the future holds for cookbooks. “Maybe we’ll all have chips in our heads that tell us what to cook someday,” she says. “I have no idea what the future holds, and I don’t think anyone else does.”

Whether the printed cookbook will become a collector’s item is anyone’s guess. What is clear is that the interest in books from local restaurants is on the rise. Home cooks want to buy cookbooks associated with the place they live and which contain familiar dishes they can recreate at home. But as technology improves, publishers working with chefs based in Seattle and beyond will have to remain nimble to produce cookbooks that are both functional in the kitchen and beautiful on paper or screen.


Home Sweet Tomes: A sampling of Seattle-flavored cookbooks filling shelves (and tablets) this year.

The Secret Lives of Baked Goods by Jessie Oleson Moore/Sasquatch Books

Weaving the stories behind classic sweets into more than 40 recipes, CakeSpy.com “dessert detective” Jessie Oleson Moore sleuths her way through dessert lore. In addition to the backstories of Boston cream pie and baked Alaska, this history book–meets–cookbook includes mouthwatering photos to boot. Out now. Hardcover $24.95, eBook $11.99.

Trophy Cupcakes and Parties!: Deliciously Fun Party Ideas and Recipes From Seattle’s Prize-Winning Cupcake Bakery by Jennifer Shea/Sasquatch Books

Recipes for favorites from the local cupcakery, like salted caramel and red velvet. But owner/baker/party-planner Shea sets the collection apart by including themed celebration ideas for adults and kids. There’s also a smattering of DIY craft instructions and decorating tips. Out September 24, 2013. Hardcover $24.95, eBook $14.99.

Gluten-Free Girl Every Day by Shauna Ahern/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Working to further demystify gluten-free cooking, Ahern offers recipes that will appeal to readers with or without food allergies. (Her first book, Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, was named one of 2010’s best cookbooks by The New York Times.) The Vashon resident’s latest is filled with seasonal, veg-centric recipes that are surprisingly simple to prepare. Out now. Hardcover $29.99, eBook $14.99.

In the Kitchen With the Pike Place Fish Guys by the Crew of Pike Place Fish/Viking Studio

An easy gift for just about anyone who’s witnessed the Market fish toss, with more than 100 seafood recipes from the men who sling 1.5 million pounds of it every year. A “How to Throw a Salmon” visual adds personality. Out now. Hardcover $30.00, eBook $14.99.

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