Meet ckbk: the (yup) Spotify of cookbooks

Meet ckbk: the (yup) Spotify of cookbooks

The pitch 

Ckbk is a new platform that offers to "put the world's best cookbooks at your fingertips". For a fixed monthly fee, ckbk subscribers have unlimited access to the full content of hundreds of cookbooks from famous names and top publishers, including more than 100,000 recipes. Expert recommendations guide users to the results which best match their tastes and interests, while recipe "playlists" allow favourites to be shared easily with friends and family.

The team
Ckbk's co-founders are Matt Cockerill in London and Nadia Arumugam in New York. Cockerill is a technologist and publishing industry veteran who, as co-founder of open access pioneer BioMed Central, made an impact on academic publishing with a new business model. Arumugam is an award-winning food writer, cookbook author, editor and restaurant investor. Her role includes primary responsibility for the editorial aspects of ckbk.

Ckbk's advisors include Jill Norman, creator of Penguin's food and drink list, and Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking. Jon Croft, Tom Kerridge's publisher at Absolute Press, also played a significant role in the genesis of ckbk, and now acts as ckbk's ambassador.
What's the gap in the market?

Cockerill and Arumugam have long noticed a growing frustration with both print cookbooks and online recipe search.

"The best print cookbooks are beautiful to look at and offer superb content, but they are impractical in the kitchen and impossible to search," Cockerill. "Online recipe search, meanwhile, is ultra-convenient but delivers a poor and fragmented user experience. Sifting through search engine results to try to find reliable recipes is no one's idea of fun."

With ckbk, they aim to offer the best of both worlds. The platform allows users to access a large collection of cookbook content from trusted names using any device, with one consistent interface that boasts smart search filtering, personalised recommendations, intelligent linking and even associated video for key recipes and techniques.

"Subscription platforms offering seamless access to premium content in return for a flat monthly fee had already revolutionised music and film," Cockerill explains. "It was clear to us that this model was a great fit for cookbooks too."
Success so far?

The ckbk team has already raised more than double its initial fundraising target on Kickstarter, and now has over 750 "founder subscribers" whose input will help them to fine tune the ckbk service.

'When we announced ckbk, earlier this year, the overwhelming response from those signing up was firstly 'when is this launching - can't wait!' and secondly 'WHY has no one done this before?'" reports Cockerill. "It was clear that there was pent-up demand for the service, and that the idea of "Spotify for Cookbooks" really resonated."

They report a positive response from authors and publishers eager for the analytics which will help them to understand new levels of detail about how their books and recipes are being used. 'The response to our private beta program (now ongoing) from authors and publishers has been hugely positive as they see their cookbooks now at last fully ready for the digital world." 

They have been pleased, too, to see interest from technology companies, who are keen to make ckbk's digital cookbook recipes integrate with the latest smart kitchen devices - for example, by measuring ingredients and setting oven temperatures automatically.

Biggest challenges?
Signing up licensing partners was always going to be the key hurdle to overcome with this sort of project. 

"Lets just say it took a while!" Cockerill laughs. "Initially there was caution, but with subscription models continuing to deliver growth in other media industries, we have found cookbook publishers are increasingly keen to work with ckbk to make more of their backlists.

"Smaller publishers, in particular, also see ckbk as a great way to make their newly published titles more discoverable. Partners such as Workman/Artisan and Murdoch Books have become enthusiastic advocates for ckbk, helping us to build critical mass. Detective work on the rights front has paid dividends, too - we have been able to license reverted rights directly from numerous authors including Ken Hom and Marcella Hazan."

Ultimate ambition?
The team want ckbk to become as indispensable to people as their weather app. 

"Right now, if you ask someone how they find food and recipes online, most likely they will say they muddle through using Google. But food and cooking is so important to our lives –  it needs its own app that can justify a permanent spot on the home screen of your phone."

Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?

"Timing is everything! But big changes can't be rushed, so even if you have the right idea at the right time, you will need persistence and patience to achieve your goal."