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The market for high end cookbooks

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#1 nathanm

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 05:39 PM

All of us on this site love cookbooks, and this particular forum is of course about that topic. At the risk of being controversal I want to pose a question -what is a reasonable price for a high end cookbook? Why are books by top European chefs so much more expensive than those by US based chefs?

Implicit in this question is how many copies will people buy.

To kick off the question here are some opening comments. I live in the US, and have some observations about the US market for cookbooks.

Basically there are no "high end" cookbooks by US authors - where by high end I mean lavishly illustrated, no compromise books. What passes for the "high end" of the US market is primarily books like Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook (TFLC) - has a list price of $50. It is a convienent example, but surely not the only one.

Now TFLC is a very nice cookbook, but if I compare it to European cookbooks by people who Keller might consider a peer, it does not come close in price or other factors (see below). The Ducasse Grand Livre de Cusine has a list price of $195. Ferran Adria's latest El Bulli 2003/2004 book has a list price of $350.

Both Ducasse and Adria books are distributed in the US (and available on Amazon). Their street price may vary a bit, but list price is a good proxy for this discussion.

In addition to these US distributed books, there are a whole host of other European cookbooks that are not distributed via conventional book stores (or Amazon) in the US and have to be bought either via a specialty store in the US (J.B. Prince, Kitchen Arts & Letters, CHIPS) or directly from Europe (I use de re Coquinaria in Spain.) These books tend to start at $100+ and many are $200+. Many are fairly slim volumes that are not as large and encyclopedic as Ducasse or Adria books.

If you compare TFLC or other high end US cookbooks to these European books several things become clear. The US books are basically written for home use. They will often have lavish photos, so they can double as a coffee table book, but the text often has clear compromises in favor of home use. In some cases the books appear to be "dumbed down" - the real way the chef works is not written up and instead "simplified for home use".

Meanwhile the European books (particularly Ducasse and Adria, but also others) seem to be mostly written for professionals. Passoniate amateurs can and do buy them and use them - but the books are done without compromise. That is true for the content (they don't pull punches or dumb down for the home). It is also true of the cost of just about everything. They also tend to be lavishly illustrated, and printed on high quality paper stock.

In the publishing world this is an example of a well known distinction between "trade" books - sold primarily to individuals at home, and "professional" books. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that in the US all cookbooks - even those at the high end of the range are viewed as (and treated as) trade books.

Culinary textbooks are an interesting case in point. They have lots of illustrations which are expensive (more on that below). They US versions tend to be about $80 to $100. That is typical of most college level textbooks. However, often there is a textbook version and then a parallel trade version that has much lower quality paper that is in the more traditional $50 range.

The high price of these European books begs an interesting question - are they overpriced? I've seen postings on eGullet from people who think so. Of course it's everybodys right to have an opinion. However I wonder how much of this is due to being accustomed to (by comparison) cheap US cookbooks.

A key issue what volume the book will sell. The cost of putting a high quality book together is considerable. Full color illustrations, charts and diagrams are expensive - usually about $1500 a page for really nice ones (less for simple diagrams or black and white sketches). Food photography is also expensive.

So, a typical college textbook in say biology or another science has a budget of about $1 million for illustrations and writing. That is a higher level of quality than most cookbooks. However, I will make a stupid wild ass guess that a book like Ducasse Grand Livre, or the El Bulli books would easily cost $400K to $500K (and that may be low). Note that this does NOT count paying the chef/author - this is the out of pocket cost of producing the book and illustrations, and translators if needed.

Of course each copy of the book also costs something to print - especially with lots of photos and high quality paper. The bookstore gets a profit, as does the publisher. Based on various estimates I think that most of these expensive cookbooks need to sell 8,000 to 10,000 copies to break even. That may be a bit high or low depending on the book - a thin book for $200 probably needs less than that.

I have no idea what the sales volume is (in the US or worldwide) for books like this, but since people keep making them they can't all lose money, so the sales volume must be there to support it. Then again, Konneman, a German publisher that made the Culinaria series of expensively produced cookbooks did go bankrupt.

Another way to look at this is that $200 or $300 is actually CHEAP for a cookbook. If you compare the book to the cost of dinner at Ducasse, or El Bulli, the book is the same price as dinner for ONE person (without wine.) Yet each of these books gives me a lot more lasting impact than one meal does.

Indeed the cost of TFLC at $50 seems ridiculously low compared to the cost of dinner at TFL or Per Se. The new menu at Per Se is $250 per person, without wine. So it is odd that the book that contains Keller's culinary wisdom and recipes is only 20% the cost of a meal for one - i.e. about the cost of the tip! That just seems out of whack to me.

It might be smart for Keller because he makes more money that way (see below), but from a fundamental value perspective, I think his wisdom is worth more than the tip on one meal for one person.

Note that I am not arguing that Keller should charge more for the sake of it! His restaurants stand out as being temples of culinary perfection. I bet that he could make a cookbook that would also be an exercise in perfection - but that would require a lot more recipes, more pages, more illustrations, better paper...in short it would become a book with the production values that you find with Ducasse, Adria or other European books. That would not be possible at a $50 price point. I'm afraid that the US cookbook publishing system just won't create such a book. So we may never see the Grand Livre de Thomas Keller

Note that I am just using Keller and TFLC as an example. The same could be said of books by Daniel Boloud, Eric Ripert, Jean George, Patrick Connell and many other top chefs working in the US.

I think that the price point of TFLC is driven mainly by the perception that a US cookbook MUST be a trade book. Pricing it cheaper (by dumbing it down and controlling production costs) will result in much higher sales volume. The volume will more than increase as the price drops, so thus more profit is to be had from a $50 book than a $100 or $200 book. That is clearly the theory behind US based cookbooks. I am sure that for truly mass market cookbooks by Emeril or Rachael Ray, this is correct. Is it true for every chef and every book?

If so, then why do the Europeans make very expensive (and very high quality) books? If they're wrong, then why do they keep doing it? If they are right then US publishers (and authors) may have overlooked a viable market niche of lower volume, and higher quality cookbooks that aim more toward professionals (and very serious amateurs).

Anyway, that poses the question. I am very curious to see what eGulleters think about this, especially if somebody has more detailed facts and figures than I have presented here.
Nathan

#2 docsconz

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 08:13 PM

This is a very interesting post and question. I can not think of one American chef's book that approaches the publishing quality of the elBulli books or the Ducasse books. While I don't have any answers, I do have a few observations to add. One is that the meals at the Michelin three star restaurants in Europe are generally more costly than those in the United States - one exception being elBulli, which is relatively affordable. That cost difference is magnified by the current exchange rate between the dollar and the euro or the pound.

While the Ducasse and elBulli books are examples of European restaurant driven books, it seems that high-end pastry chef books are even more common than those from their savory colleagues. I always enjoy perusing the pages of the latest J.B. Prince catalogue to see what is out there.
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#3 nathanm

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Posted 29 January 2007 - 10:43 PM

While the Ducasse and elBulli books are examples of European restaurant driven books, it seems that high-end pastry chef books are even more common than those from their savory colleagues. I always enjoy perusing the pages of the latest J.B. Prince catalogue to see what is out there.

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Yes, I was ordering Paco Torreblanco's books (both volumes) today and that was the immediate inspiration for the post. There are lots of fancy European pastry books that have no equivalent for US based chefs.
Nathan

#4 ludja

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 12:11 AM

Are the high end European books mainly from France and Spain or are there example from other European countries as well? Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Italy?
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#5 nathanm

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 10:39 AM

I have books like I am describing from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium.... pretty much anywhere in Europe. That is particularly true for pastry books, but it is also the case with savory cuisine.

A pan European case in point is Heinz Beck, a chef who grew in Germany, but works at one of the top restaurants in Rome. He has a series of high books on Italian cuisine, available in German, Italian, English and probably a couple other languages.

Culinary textbooks exist in all of the major countries. There is a pretty close correlation between

I don't think that nationality of the chef, or where the chef works is the most the important part. There are some regional differences of course, but these are more about the cuisine itself rather than the production values that go into the book.

France traditionally has the largest number of high end chefs (largest number of Michelin starred restaurants, for example), and thus the largest number of cookbooks by high end chefs. Spain is currently very hot because of Adria, Arzak, Santamaria, Roca, Baluger, Torreblanca and others who are part of the new Spanish cuisine, or the new Catlan cuisine or new Basque cuisine as many of them are in those regions.

British cookbooks tend to be a bit more toward the US model. Heston Blumenthal, the leading British chef has published two books but one is a cookbook for children, and the other is a companion to a BBC TV series and thus neither is meant to be a high end review of his cuisine. There are many other fine chefs - Gordon Ramsay, the Roux brothers, Ramond Blanc, Marco Pierre White.... however their cookbooks generally do not meet the same high end standard. The UK also has celebrity chefs with a more populist approach analogous to Rachael Ray or Emeril - i.e. Jamie Oliver, Delia Smith etc.

The main point here is that there seems to be a view on the part of the cookbook publishers (and also the chef/authors) that there is a market for books of this sort. The market is almost certainly a wordwide market. Most of the books that I am talking about appear in multiple languages - either in different versions, or they have multiple languages in the same book.

US cookbook publishers by and large do not seem to have this view of the market - they seem to be focussed on low end US domestic trade book market only.
Nathan

#6 docsconz

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Posted 30 January 2007 - 11:51 AM

A lot of these books tend to come from chefs either with a constantly evolving cuisine such as Adria or those with a very broad cuisine such as Ducasse. Others tend to be more technique focused such as joan roca's or many of the pastry books. It will be interesting to see how that develops in this country as more chefs become focused on evolution and cataloging a body of work. I can see chefs like Achatz, Cantu and Dufresne for example catalogue their work like their European peers. This phenomenon of ultra-high end books in Europe is not limited to the culinary world either. Rizzoli for example has built a major business on putting out ultra-high end, expensive Art books.
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#7 artisanbaker

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 09:48 AM

The TFL comparison is not apples to apples, chef. The El Bulli, Torreblanca, Ducasse books are much more advanced and detailed in nature.

The TFL book seems to be a book targeted at the amateur and read by the pro because that's the closest that they will ever get to being in the kitchen.

The other books (as listed above) seem to be targeted at the pro (much to their delight) but are also purchased by the amateur.


That's the difference to me.
Love that Torreblanca book. I took a class taught by him a few years ago and he is simply amazing...

#8 nathanm

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 10:11 AM

The TFL comparison is not apples to apples, chef. The El Bulli, Torreblanca, Ducasse books are much more advanced and detailed in nature.

The TFL book seems to be a book targeted at the amateur and read by the pro because that's the closest that they will ever get to being in the kitchen.

The other books (as listed above) seem to be targeted at the pro (much to their delight) but are also purchased by the amateur.


That's the difference to me.
Love that Torreblanca book. I took a class taught by him a few years ago and he is simply amazing...

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Yes this is the whole point! TFLC and (I claim) all US based cookbooks on both savory cuisine and pastry are geared toward home chefs. They are dumbed down (lack advanced detail) relative to what the chef/author actually does in their professional kitchen, and they have production values scaled down to amateur trade book level. There are some US based culinary textbooks (Wayne Glissen's books, CIA textbook...) but these are the exceptions that prove the rule.

Ducasse, by the way, has some books aimed at the home/amateur level also - his Spoon series of books, and several others. But his magnum opus is the professional level Grand Livre (in savory and dessert volumes).

If Torreblanca was based in the US, the pattern would be that he'd write a book about home baking - which might be a good book, but would lack the professional details and production values that make it great (in my opinion).

Indeed if you look at books by Jacques Torres and US based pastry chefs that's exactly what you see.

How come no US based chefs seem to write high end, high quality professionally oriented books?
Nathan

#9 artisanbaker

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 10:39 AM

not enough great US chefs and Keller is too busy? :P
Good question!

#10 docsconz

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 10:50 AM

Good question, indeed. For whatever reason, US publishers must not see enough of a market here and European publishers probably don't see US chefs as marketable to the bulk of their clientele. I don't think it is because of a lack of talent.

There certainly are examples of Europeans marketing books for the amateur both in savory and pastry. Ferran Adria has books and videos for the mainstream Spanish market and Pierre Hermes English language books, as wonderful as they are, are geared towards the sophisticated amateur and have more in common with high-end American books and less with high-end European.

Tghough I haven't studied it in detail, Susur Lee's book appears to have higher production values than most North American books. Even so, TFL's is probably the highest production value American book out there and I agree it still doesn't approach the European ideal.
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#11 godito

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 05:46 PM

My 2 cents

American books are targeted to the home user, no doubt. More people to buy them, more profit for everybody. And some are still good books (like TFL, for instance)

European books are more expensive to produce (Europe isn't cheap nowadays) and distribute (for the same reasons). And they are more technical and targeted to professionals. Well I do remember a few of the first Arzak and Adria books. They were also written for the home user. Maybe things changed because the flow of information became greater. I mean, none of this countries are too big. The populatios of spain is roughly 44 million. Only 11 million more than the population of California, and yet we have all heard of Adria, Santamaria, Arzak, Balaguer, Torreblanca, Roca, Subijana, Dani Garcia, Gaig, Jordi Cruz, Jose Andrés, Anduriz, and many others. I'm sure you've all heard of most of them. In spain, as in France, cooks are starting to make what some have calles "intelectual cuisine". That is thinking and talking a lot about food before plating it (hence, the now very popular labs that everybody wants to have) My guess is they decided to write about what they were doing. Those writings became books. They wanted to make great books, art books (their food as art, through photography) and technical books.

Now, another reason these books are as expensive ase they are might be because their markets are significantly smaller. Even if they were targeted for home use. Indeed, not many people speak french. As for spanish, a lot of us do (in latin america) bur I doubt they see us as a good market. We don't really have a lot of money.
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#12 docsconz

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 06:03 PM

My 2 cents

American books are targeted to the home user, no doubt. More people to buy them, more profit for everybody. And some are still good books (like TFL, for instance)

European books are more expensive to produce (Europe isn't cheap nowadays) and distribute (for the same reasons). And they are more technical and targeted to professionals. Well I do remember a few of the first Arzak and Adria books. They were also written for the home user. Maybe things changed because the flow of information became greater. I mean, none of this countries are too big. The populatios of spain is roughly 44 million. Only 11 million more than the population of California, and yet we have all heard of Adria, Santamaria, Arzak, Balaguer, Torreblanca, Roca, Subijana, Dani Garcia, Gaig, Jordi Cruz, Jose Andrés, Anduriz, and many others. I'm sure you've all heard of most of them. In spain, as in France, cooks are starting to make what some have calles "intelectual cuisine". That is thinking and talking a lot about food before plating it (hence, the now very popular labs that everybody wants to have) My guess is they decided to write about what they were doing. Those writings became books. They wanted to make great books, art books (their food as art, through photography) and technical books.

Now, another reason these books are as expensive ase they are might be because their markets are significantly smaller. Even if they were targeted for home use. Indeed, not many people speak french. As for spanish, a lot of us do (in latin america) bur I doubt they see us as a good market. We don't really have a lot of money.

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Many if not most of these high end books are translated into at least a few languages. Nathan's point is that the production quality is so high that the books must be that expensive as they are extremely expensive to produce.
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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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#13 russ parsons

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 06:14 PM

my guess is it's mainly economics. are there 10,000 people in the US who would buy such a book? In truth, most home-cooking books probably sell between 10,000 and 15,000 copies--and that's the reasonably popular ones. a book that sells 50,000 copies qualifies as mid-list and 100,000 is a smash.

so, then, the question becomes: is the european market that different than the american, or is there something else at work?

My guess is the latter. My guess--unsubstantiated by anything other than conversation--is that these books are looked at by the chefs as concrete examples of what they are doing in this most transient of arts. and as such, they're willing to "eat" the greater part of the production costs.

Even in the US, this happens to a certain extent. A book like TFLC could never be produced on what publishers pay in advance. Typically, after paying for photography, writing and recipe testing, the chef is happy to break even, at best, or be out of pocket only $10,000 to $20,000.

The interesting thing is that the TFLC, which has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, was not supposed to do well at all. I think its publisher suspected a vanity deal and the original print run was quite small (i'm guessing 25,000 to 35,000). The general belief in publishing at that time was that chef books were over (think of all those books with chefs discovering home cooking).

In fact, I know that the first printing was sold out well in advance of the holidays. And because Mr. Keller, being Mr. Keller, insisted on having a high-quality book produced in Hong Kong, the second run could not be re-stocked in time for that year's Christmas sales, causing much gnashing of teeth (and, I suspect, editors' ears).

#14 tsquare

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 06:22 PM

It seems to be part of the general publishing dilemma. You don't see great art books either due to the market price /publishing cost equation. What is happening in the fine arts publishing arena is that books are purchased prior to publication deals. So, if the market will support the book, the book will get developed and published. And the general public never sees these books. Vanity press, but with extremely high production value?

#15 Chris Amirault

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Posted 31 January 2007 - 07:30 PM

Even in the US, this happens to a certain extent. A book like TFLC could never be produced on what publishers pay in advance. Typically, after paying for photography, writing and recipe testing, the chef is happy to break even, at best, or be out of pocket only $10,000 to $20,000.

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I'm familiar with academic publishing and not trade cookbook publishing, so forgive what may be a terrifically ignorant question: does Famous Chef front the cash for these books? If so, it would seem that most of these books are, in effect, vanity self-publications, with authors and not publishers ponying up the cash and thus taking the risk. But that would also suggest, I think, that Artisan, e.g., is not taking much financial risk when they roll out TFLC, since it's Keller's dime to lose.

What sorts of advances and contract structures are we talking about here?
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#16 hapacooking

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Posted 01 February 2007 - 10:37 AM

It comes down to basic economics I think.

These European "professional" books are written for a very small market compared to the US "home cooking" market. Because of the massive distribution channels available for retail sales in the US, the high volume production runs for the books justify low-cost printing options.

I looked at a few new titles that I picked up in the past 6 months and where they were printed and how much I paid for each book. It is obvious from the printing locations that the costs are significantly lower than the European counterparts.


Sous Vide - Spain - $140
El Bulli 2003-2004 - Spain - $230
Sergio - Belgium - $190
®evolution - Belgium - $75


Sierra Mar Cookbook - Korea - $27
Happy in the Kitchen - Singapore - $30
Tapas- A Taste of Spain in America - China - $23
Southwest Flavors- Hong Kong - $23

The production costs for El Bulli and Sergio are probably very high no matter where you print them but if the market demand was high enough, I am sure the costs could be reduced if they were printed in Asia. For example if the demand for Sous Vide was high enough, there is no reason why it could not be printed in Hong Kong and sold on Amazon for $25.

#17 russ parsons

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Posted 01 February 2007 - 10:53 AM

[I'm familiar with academic publishing and not trade cookbook publishing, so forgive what may be a terrifically ignorant question: does Famous Chef front the cash for these books? If so, it would seem that most of these books are, in effect, vanity self-publications, with authors and not publishers ponying up the cash and thus taking the risk. But that would also suggest, I think, that Artisan, e.g., is not taking much financial risk when they roll out TFLC, since it's Keller's dime to lose.

What sorts of advances and contract structures are we talking about here?

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it's not black-and-white. the chefs do not front the cash for the book, as in a straight vanity publication. but neither do they always expect the advance for the book to cover all of the costs of production (and by production here, i mean creative production--writing, testing, photography--not physical production).

look--one of those color plates costs about $1,000 to $1,500 (low end for a bunch of photos, possibly lower depending on how many and how prestigious the project). A book like TFLC or Michel Richard's wonderful new "happy in the kitchen" will have 200 plates. That's $200,000 in photography right there. Even if you can somehow cut that in half, you've still got to pay the ghost and the recipe developer/tester (you do test the recipes, right?).

even an extremely generous advance of $200,000 will not go far. And there are only a handful of chefs who can command anything approaching that. typical cookbook advances are in the low- to mid-five figures, not six.

edit: i just remembered a piece i did when the first el bulli cookbook came out. i interviewed an american cookbook editor who said that based just on looking at the package, her company would have to charge $200 and then sell about 50,000 copies to recoup costs.

(I should state clearly that these figures are not based on any specific book, but on general conversations with chefs, editors and cookbook authors.)

but they, these guys want something that reflects what they're creating and that won't end up scraped into the busboys cart.

Edited by russ parsons, 01 February 2007 - 10:57 AM.


#18 artisanbaker

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Posted 01 February 2007 - 11:08 AM

Warning: minor thread drift alert!

I challenge everyone on this thread to compile a list of chefs IN NORTH AMERICA who have the hype/reputation to merit a el bulli style book that would appeal to the same market.

Richard
Boulud
Keller
Soltner
Pepin

I can't think of any others off the bat but the first three are the only ones who I could imagine actually doing it. Robuchon should do one. It would sell.

There just no enough talent to merit such books yet is my point. Give it another century...

Edited by artisanbaker, 01 February 2007 - 11:09 AM.


#19 russ parsons

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Posted 01 February 2007 - 03:42 PM

well, just for the record, pepin is not a chef, he's a writer, consultant and teacher, albeit a brilliant one. and i think he pretty much has laid out his ouvre in several books already. and i hardly see folks clamoring for a soltner book.

i would add charlie trotter to that list, mainly because he's already done those books, a whole series of them that if you added it up would probably come to more than $200.

#20 godito

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Posted 01 February 2007 - 08:38 PM

Many if not most of these high end books are translated into at least a few languages. Nathan's point is that the production quality is so high that the books must be that expensive as they are extremely expensive to produce.

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I had intended to write about that. Must have forgotten. El Bulli publishes three books whenever they releasa a tome. That is, El Bulli 2003-2004 is edited in Englis, Spanish and Catalán. That's three different books. US books are very rarely translated, and that cost is more likely nopt covered by the first edition publishers. I've never seen TFL translated.

I think that would make the books more expensive to produce, right? In any case, you are right, the quality is much higher in European books, and the iinformation has much more value. All that just leads to expensive books.
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#21 godito

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Posted 01 February 2007 - 08:48 PM

It comes down to basic economics I think.

These European "professional" books are written for a very small market compared to the US "home cooking" market.  Because of the massive distribution channels available for retail sales in the US, the high volume production runs for the books justify low-cost printing options.

I looked at a few new titles that I picked up in the past 6 months and where they were printed and how much I paid for each book. It is obvious from the printing locations that the costs are significantly lower than the European counterparts.


Sous Vide - Spain - $140
El Bulli 2003-2004 - Spain - $230
Sergio - Belgium - $190
®evolution - Belgium - $75


Sierra Mar Cookbook - Korea - $27
Happy in the Kitchen - Singapore - $30
Tapas- A Taste of Spain in America - China - $23
Southwest Flavors- Hong Kong - $23

The production costs for El Bulli and Sergio are probably very high no matter where you print them but if the market demand was high enough, I am sure the costs could be reduced if they were printed in Asia.  For example if the demand for Sous Vide was high enough, there is no reason why it could not be printed in Hong Kong and sold on Amazon for $25.

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Maybe I'm way off, but Sous Vide is mostly a book on technique. Nathan is familiar with the research involved. In a way, like most technical books, a lot of money is charged because of the time spent researching and experimenting. They want to spread the word... and get their money back.

Having said that, it is absolutely a matter of supply and demand. I believe the books are THAT expensive to produce, but they wouldn't be published if there was no market for them. Of course the market for those books is considerably smaller.
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#22 leviathan

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Posted 03 February 2007 - 02:20 AM

I think its risible that american cookbooks get dumbed down for home use since I doubt that many buyers end up actually trying to cook the recipes from those celebrity driven, high end cookbooks. I have no idea what the percentage of buyers who actually try to follow those recipes, but its got to be pretty low. Instead, I think most buyers use it for food porn, and just look at the pretty pictures. That, I suspect, is why prices for american market is lower. If the prices went too high, that would price out the majority of the buyers who are buying it just to look at the pictures. Its one thing to pay $30 just to look at some pictures of food, and its another matter to pay $300 for a cookbook you're not actually going to use the recipes for.

So, if the european cookbooks do not make any compromises, how involved are the european celebrity chefs with their cookbooks? I've been surprised to learn how detached american chefs are with the process of making their cookbooks.

#23 Mikeb19

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Posted 03 February 2007 - 11:20 AM

European books are more expensive because the knowledge in them is more valuable. They CAN charge more.

I hate to say it, but theres nothing in Thomas Keller's books of interest to me. Same goes for every other book I've seen by American chefs.

When it comes to gastronomy, the Europeans are still far ahead, despite what the critics say... Sous-vide cooking was being used in France decades before the word even popped up in the U.S...

I've been through alot of kitchens (well over a dozen), and honestly, the best chef I ever worked for was a Breton (the chef I first apprenticed under). The techniques I was taught when I first started out were more advanced than any of the techniques I've seen in any restaurant since...

In my own book collection, which book do I refer to most often for a technique or recipe? L'Encyclopédie Culinaire du XXIème siècle, by Marc Veyrat. Worth every penny (all 400 dollars worth).

#24 nathanm

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Posted 07 February 2007 - 09:08 PM

Artisanbaker raises the question of which American chefs could create a great book and lists:

Richard
Boulud
Keller
Soltner
Pepin

Well, to that I would add (in no particular order)

Gray Kunz
Eric Ripert
Nobu Matsuhisa
Jean George Vongricten
David Bouley
Charlie Trotter
Patrick O'Connell

Most of these chefs are famous enough to have multiple restaurants, often internationally as well as domestically.

That just covers the savory chefs. There are a whole set of pastry chefs as well!

One could extend this list further of course, either by going to highly popular celebrity chefs (Mario Batali), or going to young up-and-coming chefs, or chefs from cities that are not as well known.

Then there are the authors of professional cookbooks - like Wayne Glissen, and staff at CIA and so forth.

So, we have about a dozen famous restaurant chefs, plus likely another dozen professional cookbook authors and pasty chefs. That is a couple dozen candidates, yet zero takers.

So, supply of chefs/authors does not seem to be the weak link.
Nathan

#25 nathanm

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Posted 07 February 2007 - 09:31 PM

Here are a few more thoughts.

Yes, the US market tends to focus exclusively on the trade books for home cooks.

Yes, this is "simple economics" to a degree. The reason the European books are more expensive is that they target a different and smaller market. They need to charge more money both to support the high quality printing, and the huge upfront costs of those color plates and illustrations. All true.

Yes, most US buyers just look at the pictures and are not serious cooks. That is probably true for most cookbook buyers everywhere. Europe has plenty of cookbooks that are published as trade books for home cooks! It is not that every European book is high end - not at all. There are books on quick home microwave cooking, or bread machines or what have you in every language and country in Europe.

So, I agree with these points. But both of these observations miss a key point. Europeans seem to find a market for their books. That market must be international, to at least some degree, because each invidual European country is much smaller than the US.

Why doesn't a great US based chef, like Thomas Keller, write a book with European production values? The clear indication is that it would sell and make money.

I don't know how much money European chefs make on their books, but the publishers would not keep doing it over and over if it was loss making. The fact that there are so many, with new ones out every month suggests that it is a very viable market.

First, I think that there are plenty of people in the US who would buy the book. I am a US citizen and I buy the books. OK, so I am not typical, but I am hardly the only one or CHIPS, Kitchen Arts & Letters and so forth wouldn't carry them.

Besides the US, there must be an international market - the same market that the European chefs tap into.

So, the question really is why does no US chef do this? It must be economically viable. It would also help their reputation. Keller puts world class cuisine on his customer's plates, why not have a world class book?

One reason may be that US publishers don't recognize this phenomenon. They are trained to think of the trade book market, and only that. They are also trained to think only about the domestic US market, and not international distribution.

Another reason may be the perception, by publishers and chefs, that they will make more money creating a trade book for home cooks.

I the perception is out there, but I don't think it is correct.

For one thing, it doesn't work! The vast majority of books by high end chefs (Boloud, Richard, Ripert to name three that have multiple cookbooks) are not huge money makers. As another person posted, they probably sell 20,000 to 30,000 books. Occaionally a book like TFLC will sell big volume, but that is very rare for a book from high end restaurants. Indeed most US chefs believe that their cookbooks are important mainly to help reputation, not as significant money makers.
Nathan

#26 nathanm

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Posted 07 February 2007 - 09:45 PM

Sorry for three posts in a row, but I had three different thoughts.

Does anybody have figures they can disclose for the following sales volumes:

- Sales volume in the US of high end European cookbooks in the US (Ducasse, Adria....)? Note that these two are distributed offically in the US.

- Sales volume for cookbooks by high end US chefs (TFLC, Boloud, Ripert, Richard...)

- Worldwide sales of any specific high end European cookbooks?

- How many eGullet members are there?

I suspect that these numbers are either confidential, or more likely are not widely known outside the immediate circle of those involved, but perhaps somebody on eGullet knows.

Here is what I know:

Very few books have print runs less than 10,000 because it is not worth the set up to run presses for less than that. My impression is that most US cookbooks have a print run a bit higher than that at 20,000 to 30,000.

My guestimate is that 10,000 copies is the minimum worldwide sales necessary to break even from a typical expensive (>$100) European cookbook. A book like Ducasse's Grand Livre must have a break even that is more like 30,000 due to its immense size (which drives up the cost of production).
Nathan

#27 artisanbaker

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Posted 12 February 2007 - 11:10 PM

i reiterate: there is not enough talent yet. give it another century or even 2.

TK is the only one of the above listed that could produce a commercially viable product imo (period)

if i was a ceo of publishing co. and i was going to put up thousands, it would not be on trotter, kunz, etc.
keller would be the only one.

i suppose that's why i'm a baker and not a ceo of publishing company...

#28 russ parsons

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 10:29 AM

nathanm, i think your expectations of print runs are a little off. i think 10,000 to 15,000 is much closer to the norm, especially now that it is so much easier to go back for reprints (except on art-heavy books). i know "french fry" had a first run in that range and we'd reprinted four times in the first couple of weeks (thank god).

furthermore, i think we're still operating from another fallacious assumption--that ducasse, adria, et al, are expecting to make money on those books. i really don't think that is the case.

and just out of curiosity, i'm wondering what you think could have been done better in the TFL cookbook?

#29 nathanm

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 11:55 AM

The chefs don't need to make money, but the publishers do.

These books cost $200K to $1M in production costs quite apart from the author's text (photos, illustrations, layout, pre-press, book design). This is my guess, but is consistent with other estimates.

Let's assume that the chef works for free, and their staff works for free (recipe testing, food cost for pictures etc.). Somebody - either the chef, or the publisher, still has to come up with the production costs.

I can see chefs working for free, or perhaps even eating a portion of the production costs, but it seems hard to believe that they could afford to pay the entire upfront cost. Maybe Ducasse could afford it but there are SO MANY of these high end European books.

So, I conclude that this European books are financially viable. More on TFLC in another post....
Nathan

#30 nathanm

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Posted 13 February 2007 - 11:59 AM

I am away from home, but as it so happens I have a copy of TFLC and also El Bulli 2003-2004 handy. So here are some stats.

TFLC has
325 pages (but with very wide margins)
uncoated paper
No detailed technique photos showing a dish in progress
No step-by-step photos
1 picture for every 2 pages (average)
$50 retail cost

ElBulli 2003 has
333 pages (with narrower margins)
Heavyweight coated paper (like an art book)
Many detailed technique photos
Many step-by-step photos
2 pictures per page (average)
No recipes
CD ROM included (which contains the recipes)
$175 retail (half of $350 2 volume set)

So, if you compare them on production cost basis it isn't even close. ElBulli has 4X the number of pictures (I did averages by selecting 30 pages at random and counting.) It is about the same number of pages in a raw count - a much longer book because recipes eat up pages, and they have been pulled out. I am not a fan of the idea of putting the recipes on CD ROM - I would prefer to have them in print. The CD ROM is very useful - but I would like to have the recipes appear both places.

However if you want to be fair about the comparison and add the recipes then the ElBulli book would be something like 500 pages (maybe more).

TFLC is a nice cookbook. If you have a limited budget then it is appealing.

The ironic thing is that TFL or Per Se are not "value for money" or price-point constrained restaurants. They are no-compromise, ultimate quality restaurants. But TFLC is NOT made to that philosophy. It is a "let's hit a price point" book. Perhaps a bit like Keller's brasserie style restaurant Bouchon.

A lot of people would say that for half the price of Per Se or TFL you can get a meal that is 80% as good. That is probably true - there are lots of restaurants that are $125 (before wine) that are very good. To get they they make compromises. But that isn't what TK is about - he is about ultimate quality for $250. Except when he made the book.

The other irony is that if you count on a per-page basis, ElBulli is probably the better value-for-money book - it is more expensive, but it gives you the CD ROM, the extra content and so forth. So it is not even like TFLC is better value for money - it is just cheaper and lower end.

Don't get me wrong - I like TFLC, its a good book. But it isn't a book that hopes to compete with ElBulli. It isn't even in the same league.

I happened to use ElBulli book because it is handy, but you don't need exotic cuisine. Compare the Paco Torreblanco (or other European) pastry books mentioned in this thread with a US-based pastry book and you'll see the same thing only even more so.

Edited by nathanm, 13 February 2007 - 12:21 PM.

Nathan





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