Eight years ago, Marcy Goldman stopped giving recipes away for free on her website, Better Baking.
“Everyone was vacuuming up my recipes and putting them on sites like Allrecipes.com, sometimes changing the headnotes, sometimes not,” she told me in an interview. “It was irksome.”
“Cookbook editors were asking if the recipes for forthcoming books would be original or could they expect to see them on other people’s websites. Plus I felt like my recipes were my children. I felt proprietary about them, both as a chef and a writer.”
So she put her recipes behind a wall, and charged for them. Readers can subscribe to the website “magazine” for 1 to 4 months, for $5 to $20, to access more than 2500 recipes. Or they can buy one recipe at a time from the recipe archive.
I spoke with Goldman, a four-time cookbook author and longtime freelancer (The New York Times, the Washington Post, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Cooking Light, Eating Well, and the Los Angeles Times Syndicate) about the philosophy behind her online recipe business and recipe writing:
Q. Tell me about your decision to start a website that you call a magazine, where people pay you to access recipes. As you know, this is not the usual model.
A. There’s different realities. I just keep doing what I’m doing and I’m still afloat.
When I first started (charging for recipes) there were few blogs, but people thought recipes should be free online. Then came food blogs and glut of free recipes from sites like Epcurious.com. I used to get hate mail that said, “How dare you charge?”
Q. I read that you have 20,000 subscribers and 1 million visitors per month. Is this true? Let’s see, 20,000 subscribers who pay $5 = $100,000. You’ve made that much from the site?
A. No. I have 18,000 people who read my free newsletter. A tiny percent are subscribers. I get 40,000 visitors per month to the website.
Q. How’s that working for you financially?
A. (Laughs.) Enough to fill up my car with gas once a month.
Q. Why do you do it, then?
A. I never thought of charging for recipes as a moneymaker. I do it more to protect my life’s work.
Those who paid for recipes in the beginning stopped because you can get everything free on the Internet. I think it’s helped me with book sales, though. And I can see what people are choosing. They babble about low-fat, vegan, gluten-free, but they’re downloading the double chocolate torte. Ten to one they go after the decadent recipes.
Q. No offence, but why should someone buy your recipe for Belgian Waffles when they can find free Belgian waffles recipes online by the dozens?
A. Do you know how many Belgian recipes I tested — all those eggs, all that butter — to get the definitive recipe?
There’s a huge scope in my recipe archive, and the headnotes are indicative. It’s not just Banana Bread Version 1, 2, and 3. My headnotes are extensive. Companies have approached me to just buy the headnotes!
(For an example of a voracious Goldman headnote, see this one for Caramel Cake.- DJ)
Q. How many free recipes appear on your site? I found a few on your blog, and I see four of your best recipes on your site.
Giving away recipes doesn’t bring you anything. I do it because it’s a tough economy, and I want to develop a following.
Statistically, Rachel Ray and Martha Stewart have the most free recipes online and the highest cookbook sales. They’re also A-list celebrities, so the machine that drives your awarness of them drvies sales.
I don’t think offering more free recipes would make me more popular. I’m a writer who happened to become a wonderful pastry chef, versus a pastry chef who can write a little bit. As a writer I always know there’s higher ground to go to.
Q. What do you say to food bloggers who give away free recipes, week after week, and want a book deal?
A. I think they have a higher chance when buying a lotto ticket. Do it anyway, but in conjunction with maybe apprenticing at a restaurant, doing a food show on a local radio station, selling cupcakes to your local coffeehouse. All roads lead to Rome.
I’ve done the math. The bigger reward has come from writing a proposal and a cookbook, or writing recipes for corporate customers.
The whole point is bringing my expertise and teaching people. Maybe I’m a bit of an elitist. I listen to Jaques Pepin, because the guy knows his stuff. Plus, I’m in my early 50s,and bloggers are at a different level of discovery because of their age.
I feel irritated by food bloggers because they adapt other people’s recipes. It would be demeaning to me to take someone else’s recipe. What if it took 5 to 10 years of distillation to produce that one amazing recipe, just for some blogger to dismantle it?