Personalised books, created via an app or online, are increasingly popular – just look at the success of Wonderbly or Penwizard. It seems strange, then, that this vogue for personalisation has not transferred to the genre of cookery publishing, despite the obvious synergy. Cookery book sales continue to thrive in the UK, but it is not hard to see why there might be appetite for a more bespoke product. How often have you found yourself making the same half-dozen recipes in a thick tome and ignoring the rest, even if they’ve been created by your favourite celebrity chef or TV cookery show? How great would it be to able to show your understanding and appreciation for someone’s culinary tastes (vegan, lactose free, keto, big dinner parties, quick family dinners) by curating them a selection that fits their preferences and lifestyle?
To date, there have been a few attempts to deliver a personalised cookery book - but these have been hamstrung by the little-known brands behind the projects, combined with underpowered marketing campaigns. There’s long been an issue with the technology, too. To achieve the perfect cookery book for themselves or a friend, a user has to be able to select 100% of the recipes from an inspiring selection they trust, as well as tacking on the usual personalisation add-ons such as names and messages.
To be clear, the concept of personalised printed cookery books is very different from that of online recipe resources like Recipe Guru, CKBK or even BBC GoodFood. If someone needs a recipe quickly, then these type of services will always be the most effective recourse. The gap in the market here is for a gift (to others or to self) populated with recipes entirely chosen by the user and not pre-selected by an app or website.
At Hacche Online Ltd we loved the concept of a personalised cookery book but realised that the technology did not exist that allowed the necessary data sorting – so we developed the software ourselves and called it mybespokegiftIT. We are very proud to say the software was awarded a US patent - something that is very hard to achieve with developed software.
We also realised we need to partner with a known cookery brand as a generic offering would simply not have the kudos needed to generate excitement and thus sales - as Quarto presumably found out with their now deleted version. In November we were delighted to partner with the hugely popular BuzzFeed brand Tasty to offer personalised cookbooks for their fans; in December 2020 we partnered with the successful CH4 cookery show Sunday Brunch for their own version. More exciting brands will be coming to market in 2021 as appreciation of this new genre grows in the marketplace.
There is an opportunity for celebrity chefs, TV cookery brands and grocers to tap into their fan base with a personalised offering, particularly by mining back catalogue content that is otherwise gathering dust and certainly not being monetised. The personalised book does not compete with the latest high street release of a licensed book - this is a completely different purchase and unique every time. Indeed any publisher fearing competition in this way can merely hold back the latest recipe content for a period of time to allow the traditional sales to thrive.
Personalised books created online, printed on demand in the UK at a high quality printer and delivered to the consumer within 7-10 days is a concept that has been here for a while, However, it is clear from our experience that mainstream publishers are yet to embrace the concept, which can still carry a slight stigma of being ‘gimmicky’ or low quality. But with technology improving, print on demand now an accepted (and environmentally responsible) part of the publishing ecosystem and Covid-19 proving that online book sales are only on the up, it seems bizarre that the big houses are holding back.
We believe we’re proving how well this model can work for the cookery sector, but there’s scope for other equivalents too. What about a bespoke travel guide or a volume of short stories, curated for the loved ones in your life from amongst a publisher’s most inspiring backlist? Poetry is an obvious candidate too; users themselves could select poems around a theme, or simply according to their own taste. If you step outside the classics, there are copyright implications, but anthologies are nothing new, so there is precedent.
In short, isn’t it time the publishing world overcame its snobbery around personalisation and invested in the technology and marketing to really make it fly? Whether they’re curating a selection of plant-based packed lunches or a volume of political essays, readers have a real hunger to control the narrative of the books they buy and share. We’re proof of it, and we think there’s great scope for other innovations to help this market grow.
Nick Ponting is the c.e.o. of Hacche Online Ltd.