Cookbook on the Kindle – the concept doesn't work

4192NNGv6hL._SL500_AA242_PIkin-dp-500,BottomRight,-15,38_AA280_SH20_OU01_.jpgA bit of background. I do almost all the cooking at home. I love to cook and will happily spend hours making a meal. I make fresh bread at least twice a week. I have 30 feet of cookbooks in my kitchen. That is why I was excited when I got a notice that there would be a free Cook’s Illustrated cookbook coming to the Kindle this month. It arrived yesterday, and it doesn’t work.

The good: The Kindle’s excellent delivery system. I knew the book was coming around now so I just left the Whispernet on and, lo and behold!, it arrived out of the ether without my doing anything. If there is one thing that keeps me from changing ebook readers it is this marvelous service.

The bad: The concept doesn’t work. This is not the Kindle’s fault, but the fact that some things are just not meant for an ebook format. When using a cookbook one likes to flip through it browsing for recipes. You look at one, go back and compare it to another, maybe find a third and see if you can’t combine the ingredients of one or more of the others you’ve seen. You compare ingredients on hand with the recipe and change recipes if you don’t have some particular important ingredient and want to make something right now. You simply can’t do this flipping back and forth with an ebook. The screen delay is too long, you don’t know, and certainly can’t remember, what the other recipes are. Going back and forth from the table of contents to the index is a time-consuming process. The ergonomics of the whole thing is just not set up for cooking and recipe browsing.

This is really the first time I have come across a complete failure of the ebook medium. I can’t see how it is possible to make any change in the hardware that would alleviate the problem. There is simply no substitute for flipping pages and marking them with bookmarks. Or folding down a page so that you can compare ingredients of two recipes side by side. Cooking is not a linear process. If I’m making a four course meal I want all the recipes immediately available so that I can do part of one while I’m waiting for another recipe to finish a particular stage. The ebook format is, by its nature, linear and this linearity is not adaptable to serious cooking.

Nope, Cooks Illustrated is the best cooking magazine on the market but the ebook format just doesn’t cut the mustard when it comes to cooking. I’ll stay with the magazine and keep my Kindle out of the kitchen.

13 Comments on Cookbook on the Kindle – the concept doesn't work

  1. Felix Torres // March 12, 2009 at 8:20 am //

    Cookbooks aren’t really books, y’know…
    They’re printed databases.
    That’s why the optimum cookbook is a box full of index card.
    For this kind of application you need nulti-tasking and multiple windows or at least hot-keying between documents; do-able but so niche its more cost effective to use a kitchen PC instead.

  2. I think if you had a set of recipes you wanted to bring with you to your brother’s house for christmas, you could bring them on the kindle, might work.

    Otherwise I don’t see how any ebook on the readers, where you’d need to flip around, have two pages readily available at the same time, or have nice readable diagrams, would work. They’re too small, color impaired, and way too slow. Basically, I think they’re good for reading novels – begin at page one and go through page by page to the end. They’re too slow for anything else.

  3. I wouldn’t write off the ebook format for recipe books altogether. Certainly on the current generation of e-ink devices it doesn’t work but with a multi-touch touch-screen interface like the iPhone, I think it could be quite different. Imagine being able to flick through pages as fast as you can flick through album cover art on the iPhone/iPod Touch and then drag pages around the screen like windows on a computer. Such a device is certainly years away but I’m optimistic that it can be pulled-off.

    I’m more concerned that we need a waterproof ebook reader because, given the number of stains on my paper recipe books, an electronic reader wouldn’t last long in the kitchen.

  4. Paul I totally disagree. Especially with “Cook’s Illustrated” where the cooking methods are the focus (as opposed to lists of recipes or full color food porn), I think the ebook approach is awesome. I’d have liked to see a hyperlinked index included, so you could search for recipes, but the TOC is pretty darned good with the kindlized “Cook’s Illustrated” — And I love that I can figure out what it is I need help with, set my iphone on the kitchen counter, and follow the instructions.

    My big dream (well, one of many) would be a combo searchable recipe database that could link up to your in stock pantry AND keep track of what you have on hand. You take it to the store with you and scan the items as you buy — your magic recipe iphone app will tell you what you can prepare with what you have, as well as what you need to get from store. Plus all in color. So, Liza needs to get to work on that pronto!!
    In the meantime I think she did a fabulous job with the “Cook’s Illustrated” Kindle book, and I’m really enjoying using it.

  5. Recipe websites are generating a pretty decent amount of trafic and usage, so even if the kindle dont work it’s not saying that e-cookbooks are doomed. it just sugest that the kindle might have failed at making the 1:1 transition and dont give the same added benefits as the web might.

  6. I have to say the main thing I would like ebook versions of cookbooks for would be to have with me when I go to the grocery store. I don’t know about everyone else’s cookbooks, but mine don’t exactly stay clean when i’m cooking. I wouldn’t want my kindle getting dirty (iphone seems easier to clean imho), but it is really nice to have a cookbook or set of recipes available while i’m at the store.

  7. I publish e-books in pdf, and they work great. I no longer have to have 30 feet of cookbooks in my kitchen 😉

    I considered trying to put one out on kindle, but I thought the formatting would be a nightmare, and the small screen won’t allow you to see ingredients and instructions on one page.

    And you bring up another good point – it would require a lot of anchor tagging to make it user friendly. Bummer.

  8. Garson O'Toole // March 12, 2009 at 4:12 pm //

    Paul Biba mentions “folding down a page so that you can compare ingredients of two recipes side by side.” This problem can be ameliorated with larger screens and with multiple screens. If you had several Kindles then you could place them side by side for comparison of different recipes. This tactic will be easier to afford when the price of e-book readers falls substantially.

    However, the “kitchen of the future” could provide even better support for chefs by supplementing ebook readers with wall screens and projections. The IEEE Spectrum has a collection of pictures that depict a variety of projection systems and interaction styles. For example the Microsoft Surface research might yield a system that would be useful in the kitchen.

    An ebook screen is, in a sense, a narrow portal to information and sometimes a capacious portal is superior. When portability is not needed a large screen can be deployed.

  9. I disagree with this post; I think this cookbook is well done and very useful. I’m planning to highlight recipes and then open the My Clippings.txt file to print them when necessary. I’m not sure that will work well but I don’t see why it wouldn’t. Definitely not a failure of the e-book medium in my opinion, just useful in a different way. Plus, this is a basic, how-to-cook type cookbook that many people may want to read in large chunks before actually attempting the recipes. Why not do that at a coffee shop on a Kindle?

  10. Coming late to the conversation, but . . . why not just put the kindle in a ziploc baggie for kitchen use? You can still read through the plastic, push the buttons to turn the pages, pick it up and move it around with damp hands,a nd so forth and the kindle will be safe and sound.

  11. I see this as yet another variety of the generational change thing. Nothing more nothing less. eCookBooks are easily managed and enjoyed, all it needs is a change of attitude and an embrace of change in general.

    Software could also be adapted easily to bridge that gap. One way would be for bookmarks to appear on the side of the page as a tab and not just to be linked to a page number (a concept that is moot in eBooks) but to an exact place on pages. By bookmarking five recipes one would collect a group of five tabs down the side and by touching each on it would be easy to flip from selected recipe to selected recipe.

  12. One idea could be to use a technique from photo editing software whereby you tag images and then have the option to hide all other images or in this case recipes. Pages turns would just flip you between the few items you tagged

  13. E cookbooks don’t work for me. To hard to navigate.

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