Do we cook more in a recession? What about the sale of cookbooks?

Just the other day I was engaged in a discussion about the decline of book sales due to the increasing availability of electronic book readers and other mediums.  That discussion also moved to the sale of cookbooks, and it made me wonder…Do people cook more in a recession?  And if that’s the case, wouldn’t we see more cookbooks being sold?  I think, in part, these two things have a direct correlation on each other, but not for the reasons you may think.

I honestly don’t think many people are downloading cookbooks to read on the metro or bus on their way to work.  However, food blogs (like this one), the food network, epicirious, and other sites are the ones cutting into cookbook sales.  If I can type a few ingredients into google and come up with 100 different recipe options, why do I need a cookbook?  Of course, there are people, like my mom (and myself) who still rely on cookbooks.  It might be because that’s how its always been done, or it might be because there is something comforting about having a cookbook opened to your favorite cookie recipe with smudges of batter or chocolate from past batches.

Enough nostalgia…  After doing a little search, I found an article from April 2008 on slashfood which said that food books were seeing a rise in sales in Q2 of 2008 — while this info in over a year old, I was still a bit surprised.  Then it dawned on me.  This past summer, the movie Julia & Julia came out and I think may have really brought a resurgence to cook books, specifically Julia Childs cookbooks.  The movie did well, bringing in nearly $100 million in the US alone, and maybe the movie also brought people to the book store to buy cookbooks too.  On the other side of the coin, Gourmet Magazine, a fixture since the early 1940’s, recently shut its doors for good.  Is this because of blogs, TV channels devoted cooking?  I think its a little of both, but the recession sure didn’t help either.

I digress.  The New York Times reported last month, in an article entitled E-Book Fans Keep Format in Spotlight, that e-book readers are reading more because of the new format.  Brad Stone went on to say that “a reader who had previously bought eight books from Amazon would now purchase, on average, 24.8 books, a rise from 21.6 books.”  That number is astounding.  It seems to be signaling that this new way to read books may be bringing in readers who didn’t actually read a whole lot before.  On the other hand, true diehards wont be converted, as they prefer to slip an old favorite like Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 into their backpack to read on their morning commute.

E-Books and book readers really don’t seem to cut into cookbooks sales, as I said before, however, I think that food blogs, 24 hour food shows, reality food shows and other mediums are stealing the show, and stealing the cookbook writers glory.  Even the cookbook writing guru, Marc Bittman, has embraced the times with his own food blog on  

Back to the matter at hand.  During the tough times of the past two years, I imagine people are like me and have chosen to cook more and eat out less. As I have blogged on before, all you need is a CSA, a few cookbooks and the willingness to get into the kitchen and cook.  Would the meal taste better if I went to 2 Amy’s for a delicious pizza, or to a fancy meal downtown at Poste?  Maybe.  But, like all people who love to cook, the sense of accomplishment from making your pizza dough(recipe for own honey wheat dough coming soon), sauce and delicious toppings is very rewarding (and of course cheaper).  When it comes to cookbooks, I’m still not sure where I stand.  I love reading other food blogs and I hope others do too.  But I also hope that talented chefs out there can still sell their cookbooks to the diehards that will only read a Nigella Lawson or Mario Batali recipe in their books, and shun the online versions.

I for one enjoy getting my hands dirty, literally, and therefore will cook, rescission or no recession.

About Evan Halperin

I like to eat. I like to cook. I like to eat what I cook. Now, I will share with you what I like to cook. My wife and I may be a vegetarian and a carnivore, but it doesn’t mean we can’t cook a nice meal with both, without compromising taste. I will share my creative meals of the Carnivore and the Vegetarian.
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