CookbooksSince the settlement of Virginia in the 17th century, cooking has been one of the most active and successful categories in book publishing (cookbooks, food, and wine). Initially, cookbooks were written by chefs for chefs. Later on, cookbooks were written for and used by wealthy women to read to their illiterate kitchen help.

In the nineteenth century, cookbooks and home management guides became a staple of middle class life. The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, written by Fannie Farmer in 1896, was the first modern cookbook, using precise measurements and detailed instructions, which were displayed at the top of each recipe page. In 1924, the new edition of Boston Cooking School became the first cookbook to make the Publishers Weekly nonfiction bestseller list.

According to the Simba Information annual report, Business of Consumer Book Publishing 2006, the cooking category generated $519 million dollars in 2006, placing it sixth among the nineteen categories being tracked. The market for cookbooks was one of a handful of categories that generated more than $500 million that year. Category revenues have increased a very healthy 5.1% over the last few years (a rate of increase second only to the increase rate for biography/autobiography) and a whopping 20% overall.

Consumer dollars spent on cooking, food, and wine books accounted for 8.2% of all consumer dollars spent on books. The top five revenue-generating publishers accounted for 48% of all category revenues. Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group (division of Random House) is in the enviable position of publishing books written by all the stars of the Food Network.

According to Bowker’s Books In Print database, there are 38,126 books classified with the BISAC subject category “Cooking” still in print. This is 17,000 fewer than the in-print total for Sports & Recreation, which generates only a fraction of the revenues of cookbooks. This suggests that there is a much shorter shelf life (no pun intended) for books about cooking, food, and wine. In 2006, 1,956 new cookbooks were published. This figure is preliminary, and the final total should inch up by the time Bowker stops counting. Category output for publication years 2002-2006 is graphically represented below:


In 2006, 25 cookbooks published as hardcovers appeared on at least one of the bestseller lists monitored by Bowker. This is up from 18 in 2005, and a higher percentage than for hardcovers in general. There were 291 cookbooks in hardcover reviewed in at least one of the sources tracked by Bowker in Books In Print. This is down from 323 in 2005 and lower than the percentage for all new hardcovers published. More than 56% of all books classified as cookbooks were published as non-mass-market paperbacks.

The dozen largest trade houses that generated most of the sales in this category accounted for just 14% of the new releases. Non-mass-market paperbacks constituted 49% of all new releases from the Big Twelve. The average price of cookbooks released as hardcovers from the trade houses was $28.51; the average for non-mass-market paperbacks was $16.78.

The table below lists cookbooks by type published in the U.S. from 2004-2006:

General Purpose 30%
Ethnic & Regional Cuisines 22%
Specific Foods & Ingredients 14%
Courses & Dishes 9%
Beverages (Wine, Spirits, Coffee, Tea) 9%
Methods (Grilling, Wok, etc.) 8%

Over the last three years, according to Books In Print, the ten most popular ethnic and regional cuisines by the number of new titles published over the last three years are:

  • American (General)
  • Italian
  • American (Southern States)
  • French
  • Chinese
  • Mexican
  • English, Scottish, Welch
  • African
  • American (Western States)
  • Jewish & Kosher

A few past hot cookbook titles are Paula Deen: It Ain’t All About the Cookin’ (a memoir with recipes) and Giada De Laurentis’ Everyday Pasta. Paula Deen placed number 3 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list, 36 on USAToday, 41 on Amazon, and 30 on Barnes & Noble (which includes sales data for both the website and stores); Everyday Pasta was number 6 on the Times hardcover advice list, 53 on USAToday, 54 on Amazon, and 32 on Barnes & Noble. Looking at Amazon’s list of bestselling cookbooks, we also see Barefoot Contessa at Home, The South Beach Diet Quick and Easy Cookbook, Silver Palate Cookbook 25th Anniversary Edition, Rachel Ray 365: No Repeats, and Joy of Cooking, 75th Anniversary Edition.

A title to watch is Lidia’s Italy: 140 Simple and Delicious Recipes from the Ten Places in Italy Lidia Loves Most, by PBS star Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and her daughter. Lidia’s Italy is a featured cookbook title on Amazon, part of a full-court press that includes a video message, interview, Italian travel itinerary, and her “must-have” cookbooks. Lidia is number 8 on the Barnes & Noble list of its 10 bestselling cookbooks (number 212 overall), and it is being promoted by Borders for Mother’s Day. According to Michael Cader’s deals database, Lidia is slated to come out with a new book in 2009, Lidia’s Italy: The Rest of the Story, to tie-in with her new TV series.


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4 Responses to “Cookbooks”

  1. Tassos August 25, 2007 at 12:26 pm #



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    […] purpose treatments (30%). Compiling a list of the most popular cuisines for my analysis of the cooking, food & wine category, I was surprised to find that there were so few new titles on Latin cuisine. Mexican cuisine is an […]

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