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Digital shmigital: Cookbook sales are up 25 percent

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

I love cookbooks. I like to take them to bed and read them like novels. I like to roll around in the fantasy that I’ll cook all of the dishes captured in the glossy, perfectly styled photographs. I may never make a single dish from a cookbook, but I love the book just the same. And I am clearly not the only one. Cookbook sales were up 25 percent this year, according to the research group NPD.

“We had our single biggest month in seven years in October. We’re having our best year that we’ve had so far,” said Lara Hamilton, owner of Book Larder, an all-cookbook store in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

Jenny Abrami is the sales director for Sasquatch Books, which publishes a lot of cookbooks from northwest authors.

“I think, generally, some of that growth is celebrity driven. It was a really big year for Ina [Garten] and Reese Witherspoon had a really great cookbook.”

Supermodel Chrissy Teigen put out a highly anticipated book, as did London based, Israeli born, celebrity chef Yotam Ottolenghi.

Even though there are millions of recipes available online for free, people still want to own a cookbook. Beyond the aesthetics, it’s safer to spill splotches of homemade marinara on a page than a tablet.

“If you just want to get straight information for a recipe, you can just download that from the Internet,” Abrami said. “But cookbooks are such a pleasurable thing and we think so carefully about our design. For me, online is great for getting work done and getting information quickly but if you really want to have an enjoyable experience, I feel like the cookbook is a much more pleasurable way to spend time and think about food. Especially if you’re like many of us and you’ve been staring at a screen all day. People like to display them in their kitchens. Some people use them as coffee table books.”

A modern cookbook era

Cookbooks are different than they used to be. They have personality. Authors usually include a story with each recipe, the photography is gorgeous and there is something for everybody.

“I think that this trend back towards home cooking is welcome,”Hamilton said. “When the store first opened, the big books that everybody talked about tended to be very cheffy coffee table books. And the ones that really get a lot of buzz now, and that people are really buying in greater numbers, are these ones that are really geared toward people who want to put a good meal on the table.”

She says Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” remains a very popular book.

“The hardcover outsells the paperback hands down. Because that’s just something people feel they have to own or they really want to give to someone as a gift and share. Recently it’s been books like Joshua McFadden’s ‘Six Seasons,’ Samin Nosrat’s ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ Melissa Clark’s ‘Dinner’ and I think all three of them are establishing themselves as classics.”

Persian, middle eastern and vegetarian books are also selling well and Hamilton says they have a lot of new books exploring Filipino cuisine.

“‘Avocado a Day’ is currently one of our best selling cookbooks,” Abrami said, who says they strive to make beautiful, but affordable books that sell for $19.95. “It’s single subject, all about avocados.”

Book Larder has very smartly positioned itself as more than just a book store. They teach cooking classes and host author events featuring some of the world’s most popular cookbook authors and food personalities. This brings more people into the store and, in turn, sells more books.

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