"The B2C model was flawed": what Recipe Guru learnt about subscription publishing

"The B2C model was flawed": what Recipe Guru learnt about subscription publishing

Last month we published a profile of ckbk, a new startup dubbed "the Spotify of cookbooks". Then the founders of Recipe Guru got in touch, explaining that they'd launched with exactly this model - but recently decided to pivot to B2B.  

Why? What has the Recipe Guru team learned in the past couple of years about the demand for publishing subscription services? What insights do they have about the behaviour of subcribers and the challenges of delivering 'all you can eat' content in an industry built on discrete books?

We spoke to c.e.o Niamh Sterling (below) and chief commercial officer, Dunstan Bentley to find out.

What was the original gap in the market you were trying to fill with Recipe Guru?

NS: The original idea was to take cookbooks off the shelves and put them into a format that reflects the way we live our lives today, digitise & ‘unbundle’ them onto one beautiful easy to use app by developing the ‘iTunes for Cookbooks’.   We also critically, wanted to enable publishers to provide their valued chefs with a digital footprint that delivered revenue, online audiences and marketing opportunities for their new books.  

When did you realise the model wasn’t working?

NS: We launched a nationwide trial campaign with Octopus Books, offering a selection of premium recipes from UK celebrity chefs and influencers, alongside free recipe content from regional chefs and brands. As the trial progressed, despite a well targeted and executed marketing campaign, continually optimising our UX, after three months it became clear that while our celebrity chef recipes were highly popular, the conversion rate did not match the interest. 

Why do you think the subscription model didn’t work for readers (and do you have any data on this)?

NS: Knowing that research shows there is a lower subscription adoption rate in Europe than the US, we chose to trial a freemium/ pay per download model with no upfront or recurring fees.  Barriers included having to create an account for microtransactions and lack of Recipe Guru brand awareness. However, we learned so much from the trial that we have been able to bring to our B2B solutions.  It was as the trial was coming to an end that businesses began to reach out to us to ask if they could acquire chef-authored content from us.

What inspired your decision to move to a B2B model?

NS: The data from the trial proved to us that the B2C model was flawed, but we were also receiving increased interest from companies in search of recipe content. We had access to extensive back catalogues via our publishing partners who were eager to monetise these back catalogues, so it made commercial sense for us to offer recipe content at scale to these companies. 

What success has it achieved so far?

NS: We have deployed content from Octopus Books and DK in the US, France and Norway. Our first contract was with fellow Irish company Drop, who have created partnerships with Bosch, GE, LG and Kenwood. Octopus Books recipe content is available on the Drop app and the contract is ongoing. We have also partnered with Whisk to provide recipe content solutions to their customers. Right now we're in the process of delivering on a contract with a global smart appliance manufacturer in partnership with Whisk.

What are your greatest challenges now?

NS: Our customers are located in different territories, so launching in multiple territories is a big undertaking. Securing the right talent to help us capitalise on each opportunity is also a challenge, and we're raising a funding round at the moment to facilitate this.

Do you think more publishing startups should investigate B2B rather than B2C models?

DB: It very much depends on the content set.  Fiction is extremely B2C focused, but for reference publishing, there are many opportunities not being taken advantage of in the B2B space. Content marketing spend has been increasing year on year. Take cookery for example. Recipes have high search traffic on Google, so we know that the consumer is looking for inspiration in the kitchen. The main issue though is whether they will pay for that content themselves, or if their acceptance of lower quality content that they don’t have to pay for outweighs their desire for premium paid content. (Spoiler Alert: It does)

However, we learned that with B2B partners, that compromising on quality affects their users' own experience, so that is not an option for them. We know of apps in this space getting bad reviews not for their tech or ease of use but for the lack of consistency and quality of the content contained within. B2B partners need high-quality content to provide the consumer with the best possible experience and the consumer gets the content they crave, but without having to pay for it themselves. It's also much more cost-effective for companies to acquire existing high-quality content than to generate it themselves. A win-win situation for everyone!

After speaking with our content and our brand partners and listening to the challenges they were facing, once we were able to bring in B2B expertise to our business, we were able to action a pivot from the original business plan. Whilst it may not be the right approach for every publishing startup, but it was certainly the right one for Recipe Guru. 

What’s next for Recipe Guru?

NS: We're focusing on expanding our portfolio of content providers while executing our commercial and technology milestones. We're currently working out the details with a number of companies who are interested in integrating our content with their platforms, so it's a busy time in Recipe Guru.