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Food & Dining

Software eases cookbook authors into electronic age

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 07:50 PM
TAMPA -

Bartenders extraordinaire Dean Hurst of SideBern's and Daniel Guess of Fly bar in Tampa know cocktails. A.J. Hurley and Ryan Gardner of the 715 Franklin creative co-op in Tampa know about making multimedia presentations.

The four got together earlier this year to use each person's expertise for the creation of an electronic book, or e-book, called "25 Classic Cocktails."

Released Dec. 6 in Apple's iTunes online store, the $6.99 book offers recipes for such pre-Prohibition drinks as the Gimlet, the Sidecar, the Bijou and the Hanky Panky. Each drink is accompanied by video clips of Hurst mixing ingredients and spilling a little bit of cocktail history on viewers.

Hurst said the idea to make a cocktail book happened after iBook software was released.

"It was a free download, so Ryan said, 'Let's build a book,'" Hurst says.

The group isn't expecting profits from the venture's first book, which was produced during their spare time with cameras and editing equipment Hurley and Gardner already owned.

Like other amateur authors and established writers alike, they're looking toward a long-term payoff from getting into the electronic publishing business at a time when established print publishers are struggling to maintain their dominance.

E-book authors also are seeking to capitalize on a surge of interest in the new medium.

According to a Pew Research Center study issued on Thursday, the number of people who read e-books during the past year increased to 23 percent of all Americans ages 16 and older, up from 16 percent the year before. At the same time, the number of those among that same age group who read printed books in the previous 12 months fell to 67 percent from 72 percent.

Pushing the trend is an increase in ownership of electronic book reading devices. The number of owners of either a tablet computer or e-book reading device such as a Kindle or Nook grew to 33 percent in late 2012 from18 percent in late 2011. As of November 2012, a quarter of Americans over 16 years old owned tablet computers such as iPads or Kindle Fires.

Self-publishing has long been considered the lowest form of authorship. The assumption was that if a publisher didn't want the book, there was little chance anyone beyond a few friends and relatives would, either.

That changed in the Internet era, where bloggers who wrote, photographed and produced their own online sites built large audiences that book publishers craved.

With the advent of the e-readers and tablets, authors are realizing that the traditional path of publishing no longer requires an agent or pitches to editors.

Tampa author Paul Abercrombie compares the e-book trend to the Klondike gold rush.

"For every story of a prospector who hits big, it draws all these wannabes out to try their hand," Abercrombie says.

In 2009, Harvard Common Press printed his hardcover bar book, "Organic, Shaken and Stirred: Hip Highballs, Modern Martinis, and Other Totally Green Cocktails." In March, multimedia publisher Hang Time Press put out his electronic book "Sublime Bloody Marys: 10 Boozy Ways to Greet the Day."

The Bloody Mary book, which sold for $2.99, was priced for cocktail-loving readers who were interested in a one-click, impulse purchase.

"The trouble with the e-book is that there is still some distribution mojo that is hard to do on your own," he says. "How do you get people to review and see it [the way you would with a traditional publisher]?"

Authors with established careers in traditional publishing have a better chance at making the digital transition, he says.

Ohio-based author, journalist and cook Michael Ruhlman, who has written award-winning food books with chefs such as Thomas Keller and Grant Achatz, published a book-like iPad app this month called "The Book of Schmaltz; A Love Song to a Forgotten Fat."

Created as a technological experiment with his wife and photographer Donna Turner Ruhlman using a topic he loves, the book includes 21 traditional and contemporary recipes for cooking with Jewish-style chicken fat, along with step-by-step instructions.

Ruhlman previously created an app for his book "Ratio," as well as an instructional guide called "Bread Baking Basics." His print publisher didn't mind when he put out the previous apps.

For "Schmaltz," publisher Little Brown put up resistance until the two sides reached an app-now, print-later agreement.

The payoff for the Ruhlmans: Their $10,000 upfront investment in photographing, writing, copy editing and designing the app ultimately will be paid for by the publisher.

All electronic profits will go directly to their pockets. It's a little like building a fantasy spec house in between skyscraper projects.

"This inverts the author-publisher relationship," Ruhlman says. "They're going to have to justify their overhead. It's a gamble, but we think we can make money doing this."

Others are choosing to make the publishing tools easier to use. Babette Pepaj, creator of the recipe community BakeSpace.com, released an app earlier this year called "Cookbook Café" that allows users to create and publish their own recipe collections for everything from family recipes to gift books for newlyweds.

The site also acts as a launching pad, making it easier for cookbook authors to be seen and downloaded.

Many times electronic authors spend more money than they expected to publish electronic books that are buried in online stores.

The advantage to publishing electronically is that there is no time lag waiting for a publisher to approve, edit and then print and market the book. Using Cookbook Café, a book's content can be uploaded and published in an hour, she says.

"There are home cooks who are not only bread bakers, they're the best bread bakers I've ever seen," Pepaj says. "They're not professionals, but they have 10 great recipes in them. This is their way to monetize those recipes and give themselves a second business."


(813) 259-7324 Reporter Mary Shedden contributed to this report.

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