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The future of the cookbook

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(Read caption) A Blogher convention.

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What makes a cookbook? It’s a curated collection of recipes, but so are plenty of online sites. It can include stories or specialized cooking instruction, but so do endless high-quality blogs. These days, it’s a hybrid, with modern apps and additions from generating shopping lists to demonstrating cooking techniques.

Small wonder that a cookbook conference is in the works to look at what their future holds.

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“We so often think about text and photos. And so often now it’s becoming more than that,” says Adam Salomone, associate publisher of Harvard Common Press, which is helping food historian Andrew Smith lay the groundwork for a 2012 conference in New York.

“It’s becoming video, audio, enhanced functionality – where you can (for instance) change serving sizes, engaging the community and seeing the content they produce. All of that stuff is not in our core toolkit of where we necessarily know what to do,” Mr. Salomone says.

The Boston-based publisher, which specializes in cookbooks and parenting books, “has known for a couple of years that we needed to think even beyond the book and the digital book,” says publisher Bruce Shaw. It needs to figure out how to best make use of its “database” of 20,000 recipes from some 125 cookbooks, and figure out how people will want to read and use them in future years. (Harvard Common is already a major investor in, a recipe search and recommendation site.)

The traditional cookbook is hardly in immediate danger, with the US in a culinary renaissance and a steady stream of new publications. But it’s time, say some in the industry, to figure out what’s possible with the technology that’s now available, and what readers want.

How did Harvard Common get involved? In an old-media-new-media mashup. They met award-winning food author Molly O’Neill through a BlogHer Food convention, which brought them together with food historian Smith.

They’d like publishers and authors to be involved in the conference, agents and bloggers and food magazines. “Everybody is really trying to figure this out.”

What do you get from a cookbook that you don’t already get from blogs or recipe sites?

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Seattle writer Rebekah Denn blogs at

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