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The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference

Who doesn’t remember curling up on the sofa as a child and reading the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook with its inviting red and white plaid cover or planning recipes and dinner parties from the tasty dishes outlined in the pages of Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook?  O.K., so maybe that was just my childhood, but cookbooks have always been a part of my life and, like cooking magazines, were how I found recipes to try and different cuisines to explore.  The Roger Smith Cookbook Conference taking place this weekend takes a look at where cookbooks have been and the stories they have told as well as where they might be going in the future. 

Today, I took part in the workshop “A Cookbook for the Year 2020: An Experimental Case Study.”  The group was broken up into tables of eight or so with a publisher at each one.  The task was to discuss how publishing might look in the future given all the advances in technology, the use of apps and e-books, and even how social media might break down the traditional roles that publishing houses play in promoting an author and his or her work.  Each of us brought a different point of view to the topic which made for dynamic and lively conversation from the culinary instructors to the bloggers and writers, like me, to the app developers and PR folks.

Don’t worry, they aren’t obsolete just yet!

As a wrap up to the workshop, every group gave a presentation about their thoughts.  What was interesting to see was how the eight sets of folks each basically ended up creating very similar models for what they thought the future would look like in 2020.  Many of these developments are already underway, as a few of us remarked, but the feeling was that there would be stronger ties on several of these fronts and that the use of digital publishing would be more widespread:

  • Some form of a print book will exist but could be more like an “art book” format with limited print run and available at a much higher price point (the figure of $100 per copy was thrown around for some editions)
  • The user will become a content curator – recipes will be disseminated almost exclusively by digital means, including allowing the user to create his/her own collections and e-books
  • Technology will play a bigger role in the day-to-day cooking experience – the user will have “smart” appliances, which then tie into shopping lists, link to direct orders with grocery stores, maintain pantry inventory as well as deliver video content, nutritional information, and recipe ideas
  • Partnerships and affiliations with brands who build these appliances would be one way for the publisher to distribute content from authors and recipe developers
  • Going digital would enable databases of recipes to be re-organized in multiple formats and allow for publishers to market and sell them via various distribution channels – think collections of recipes using the latest “it” ingredient being compiled and ready for users in hours, rather then months
  • Whatever means will exist to get recipes into users’ hands, there will also be greater sharing and interaction between cooks (via the newest model of Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter) and potentially for authors with their audience

In a few hours, it was possible for us to delve into only a few of the ways that moving from a more paper-based publishing model to electronic media streams could change the way we interact with a traditional bound cookbook that goes on a shelf.  During the next two days of the conference, there will be several other panels looking into cookbooks past, present, and future and where this medium might be going with the expansion of digital content creation and development of more robust on-line curation systems.

Buon appetito!