In a world full to the brim with cooking tips and recipes it’s important to play to your strengths. That is a lesson that cookbook publishers like Chronicle Books and Adams Media have learned and improved upon with several of their publishing endeavors like the recently released True Blood Cookbook and the older Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook (you may have seen my earlier posting on this book). Publisher’s weekly has even announced that the True Blood Cookbook is one of their top ten cookbooks for the fall. But why are these books, a mix of fandom and culinary experiments, a good idea?
To those of you familiar with the publishing industry it’s no surprise that print publishing is often a challenge. As the digital publishing era takes shape publisher’s are trying to find every genre’s best fit for publication. For instance, the romance novel industry has found that in many cases they’ll have greater success publishing their books digitally because of the discretion an eReader provides and the nature of the content. Cookbooks are having a harder time finding their publishing niche. After all who wants their $400+ iPad sitting next to a skillet that is spattering grease? At the same time digital access to recipe how-to videos and other interactive media can be an invaluable asset especially to the beginning chef. As a result of the cookbook’s interest in both print and digital media I’ve started to notice some interesting innovations in the cookbook genre, particularly the development of the fan-book/cookbook.
These fan-fulfilling books use a different niche: an established audience. The Harry Potter Cookbook was released in the middle of the last Harry Potter Film’s media frenzy and capitalized on the attention Harry Potter was receiving in bookstores. The True Blood Cookbook is in a similar situation, it’s being marketed to the current viewers of the show.
This type of fan-based cookbook tends to offer an extended experience for the fan. Extra written content is common, such as True Blood cookbook’s small blurbs “written by” the show’s characters introducing each section. For instance Sookie Stackhouse, the show’s protagonist, is credited as the writer of the introduction and it is in her perspective and voice (from the novels). The recipe sections, titles, and names also reflect the show with “Cocktails to Die For” and “Eating Out in Bon Temps” being prime examples. And unique to True Blood and other fan cookbooks based on visual media, there is a plethora of images in gorgeous full color and of high-definition. The result is a complete, well-rounded, and thoughtful cookbook with a stunning visual presence.
But there is an area where many fan cookbooks fail: quality of the recipes themselves. At times we get so caught up in the extras that the recipes (presumably the reason the book exists) do not get the attention they need. I chose True Blood: Eats, Drinks and Bites from Bon Temps and The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook because they are both exceptions to this downfall. I’ve enjoyed the Unofficial Harry Potter recipes for years and the True Blood cookbook, after a month (checked on 10/3/12), has an Amazon ranking of #8 in Humor & Entertainment-Television and #11 in Us. Regional cookbooks. It’s also garnered an average 5 star review, with glowing comments on everything from the extras for fans to the quality and ease of the recipes.
To see the increase in the amount of interest and effort these particular cookbooks are receiving one merely needs to flip through these two books. Unofficial Harry Potter published in 2010 (Amazon Ranking #1 in Children’s Cookbooks) is well-researched and contains authentic recipes but it has no full color photos, or references to the incredibly popular film-franchise (after all it is unofficial) so it is limited in its success. Now in 2012 the fan cookbook seems to have fully developed with True Blood’s cookbook at the hands of Chronicle Books. It seems that every major franchise including The Hunger Games, Downton Abbey, and Game of Thrones wants a piece of the action, or at least the publishers do.