Cookbook Sales Are Jumping, Which Is Great News For Shops That Specialize In Them

Food & Drink

Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith’s books are popular finds at cookbook shops. (Photo by Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP)

Every week seems to bring a new cookbook from a culinary master, celebrity chef or dedicated author.

Some are simple recipe collections, others are elaborate, beautifully photographed books akin to art books found on coffee tables.

But, does anyone buy them? The answer, it seems, is a resounding yes.

Publisher’s Weekly reports that sales of print cookbooks rose 21 percent in 2018 compared with 2017, according to data collected by NPD Bookscan.

That’s despite the fact that recipes are widely available online, on apps, in newsletters and on the websites of restaurants and chefs.

Readers, it seems, want physical cookbooks. If they don’t actually use them in their kitchens, they use them as reference tools and simply for reading enjoyment.

One of the beneficiaries of the cookbook boom are bookstores that specialize in selling cookbooks, whether new, vintage or antiquarian.

These are places like Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco, Kitchen Arts & Letters in New York, and Now Serving in Los Angeles.

You can find a huge variety of used cookbooks at Kitchen Witch in New Orleans, where I’m a regular customer. It has many New Orleans themed cookbooks, but its international section is a particular highlight.

I’ve purchased everything from obscure French household guides to the first entertaining book published by Prue Leith, the  author and judge on The Great British Baking Show.

As I learned when I visited a session of Antiques Roadshow in 2017, cookbooks are a popular category for collectors. Pamphlets and books on unusual cuisine are especially good purchases, according to appraiser Ken Gloss from Boston’s Brattle Book Shop.

One popular concept in cookbook focused bookstores is to combine book sales with author demonstrations.

That’s a specialty at Read It & Eat, a shop in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. The bookstore, which is four years old, has long shelves of cookbooks from around the world, and a test kitchen where recipes from the cookbooks are tried out.

My friend Ina Pinkney, Chicago’s Breakfast Queen, introduced me to Read It & Eat during the 2017 holiday season, and I’m definitely planning to take a class there.

On March 14, for example, Read It & Eat will host a Pi(e) Day baking class (3/14, get it?) that will include four different types of recipes and instructions.

Books and events are also a highlight at Book Larder in Seattle, which opened in 2011. Owner Lara Hamilton told Publisher’s Weekly that 2018 was her best sales year yet.

She credited the uptick in people eating and entertaining at home, which market research from the NDP Group supports.

And, Hamilton said that cookbooks have one big advantage over those styled food photos that readers might spot on Instagram. “Recipes in cookbooks are reliable. It’s what keeps us in business,” she said.

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