Cookbooks are topping bestseller lists and earn generous amounts of shelf space in any bookstore. I didn't understand it; hadn't food blogs killed this genre? But cookbooks are more popular than ever, instructing readers how to eat healthier, enjoy celebrity favorites, and even bring fictional universes into their kitchens. By Janice Vis

Research with Popular Print Edmonton leads me down many book-lined aisles. I’ve thumbed through innumerable novels and magazines, and my phone’s memory is bursting with images of book displays. While perusing our literacy-saturated world, I continued to encounter a market I did not expect: cookbooks. Haven’t the prevalence of food blogs and the ease of google eliminated the need for physical culinary print? How are cookbooks topping bestseller lists?



My observations are not merely chance; BookNet Canada, an organization which studies the book industry and offers services to its members, labels it one of Canada’s top five most popular genres and undertakes research specifically targeting this type of print. BookNet also reports that cookbooks are most popular in the prairie provinces, indicating that Edmontonians may be more likely to purchase culinary print than their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

BookNet records statistics for cookbook buyers in both 2014 and 2017. While these numbers are not Edmonton-specific, they nonetheless illuminate some general market trends. For example, in 2014, the average cookbook buyer was a married female between the ages of thirty-four and fifty with some post-secondary education. Nearly half of cookbook buyers were discovering the titles they bought online, but 70% still made their purchases at a physical location. Cookbook buyers were also more prone to impulse purchases.

Three years later, some trends remain constant: cookbook buyers are still likely to be married with post-secondary education. Other details have shifted. In 2017, cookbook buyers were equally likely to be male or female. The ages of buyers also changed, as today’s buyers are most likely between the ages of 19-29 and 55-64. More customers made their purchases online (48%), but ebooks saw a decline from 15% to 12% of total purchases, suggesting that print still dominates the cookbook market despite digital alternatives.

My observations while lurking in the cookbook section are consistent with, but not a perfect reflection of, BookNet’s statistics. I didn’t notice the reported gender balance; cookbooks shoppers were predominantly female in my experience. Most were browsers and didn’t stay in a specific section or limit their interest to a specific type of cookbook, but rather spent a few minutes picking out different titles, flipping through them an examining the larger images before returning them to the shelf. This trend reflects BookNet’s assertion that these consumers are more likely to chose titles on impulse rather than previous research. They weren’t making planned purchases, but meandering through the shelves to see what caught their eye.

Most buyers spent much of their browsing time looking at the images of food rather than examining the recipes in depth. The brightly coloured images are not only eye catching, but also a simple way to gage what dishes the cook will encounter. However, a picture may not be able to communicate the skill level necessary for success. Sometimes, dishes that look simple may require difficult steps or professional equipment, or complex dishes may be relatively easy to make.

The eye-catching images also attract younger audiences. While I walk through Chapters, a young girl, probably four or five, points to a colourful cupcake-themed volume, and asks her mom if she can have it. When her mother relents, the girl’s bouncy smile demonstrates how cookbooks can be one method to introduce kids to cooking and get them excited about preparing food.



As noted earlier, consumers favour physical print copies of cookbooks. Hardcover and oversized volumes, while more expensive, are thriving in this market. While the novel section of a bookstore features predominantly soft-cover items and the occasional hardcover book (often a new release or especially popular title,) substantial portions of cookbook shelves—sometimes even half the space—display hardcovered items.

Furthermore, according to BookNet, hardcover books are increasing in popularity. In 2014, about one-third of all cookbook purchases were hardcover. In 2017, that number had increased to 44%.



Genre might seem straightforward at first—a cookbook is a volume with recipes and instructions on food preparation. But what is the difference between a cookbook, a nutritional book, and a diet book, especially if all three contain a mixture of recipes and traditional prose? Often, bookstores have separate sections for these “genres,” but the divide between the materials isn’t always clear.

The content under each of these headings is increasingly similar, and the genres appear to be converging. Cookbooks almost always include prose to give the recipes context, clout, or greater interest. This might take the form of health science (or pseudoscience) to explain why the ingredients or cooking method will improve health or promote weight loss. It might also take the form of history or narrative. Edmonton Cooks, for example, includes short notes about the local restaurants and chefs sourcing the recipes.

Moreover, a Christmas cookie cookbook isn’t a diet or nutritional read, but a vegan cookbook might fall into all three categories, including recipes, specific diet instructions, and health research about the benefits of a plant-based diet. The prevalence of diet and nutrition in the genre also explains why cookbooks are so popular—they’re tied to the multi-billion dollar weight loss industry and capitalize on diet trends. Words like “health,” “cleanse,” and even “skinny” can be spotted in many titles lining the shelves.

The glossy, high-quality images blanketing the books' pages evidences the rise of food photography. A cookbook doesn't merely show what a dish should look like--it captures the steam swirling perfectly from the plate, the crossed utensils positioned casually, as if just used, and the light reflecting off each droplet of oozing sauce. It is not unreasonable to consider these volumes as photography books.

The Gender Divide

Although BookNet reveals recent cookbook buyers are equally likely to identify as male or female, the materials may fall into gender biases.


Sometimes, the intended audience reveals traditional gender roles and assumptions. EPL stocks three copies of Eat Like A Man: The Only Cookbook A Man Will Ever Need, which includes many meat-based dishes for the “manly man.” There’s also Dad’s Own Cookbook, which assumes that men are naturally bad at cooking; its description claims the book “will turn the most culinarily challenged dad into the family chef.” Readers can also check out The Bachelor’s Guide to Ward Off Starvation, but won’t find any similar volumes directed towards single young women—it’s assumed females already know how to keep themselves well-fed.

Design also plays a role. While many cookbooks have neutral appearances, dessert cookbooks are more likely to use colours or patterns traditionally labelled “feminine,” like soft pastels, curly-cues, and flowers or butterflies. Cookbooks focusing on grilling are more likely to be “masculine” looking, using darker colours, harsher edges, bolded fonts, and images of fire or knives. This may reflect household practises; when talking to Forbes, Steven Raichlen, a “food expert” who penned The Barbecue Bible and Planet Barbecue said he believed “between 60-70% of grilling and barbecuing in the world is done by men.”

Celebrity Chefs, Television Programs, and Fan Groups


The success of cooking television shows contributes to the success of the market. In any bookstore, you’re bound to find cookbooks with recipes from the likes of Gordan Ramsey, Oprah, Rachael Ray, and Jamie Oliver. The Chapters in Terra Losa even dedicates a shelf specifically for celebrity chef cookbooks. Customers will also find volumes from specific shows, such as The Chopped Cookbook and Masterchef: The Ultimate Cookbook. However, it isn’t just cooking shows that offer cookbooks; the print items have become fan merchandise, as many popular series, movies, or video games invite fans to try out themed dishes. Sometimes, the recipes are adapted from the series’ historical context; Downton Abbey’s volume uses ingredients and techniques from the early twentieth century, and the Game of Thrones’ book adopts medieval dishes.

Often, recipes are themed with clever names and puns. For example, while searching Chapters locations, I found A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook (featuring King’s Landing Lemon Cakes), Adventure Time: The Official Cookbook (with Banana Guard Banana Bread), The Unofficial Downton Abbey Cookbook (which includes Upper-Class Fruit Salad), The Official DC Super Hero Cookbook (for those who like Bat Cave Chicken Stew), and World of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook (including Dragonbreath Chili).

Capitalizing on fan markets and successful franchises diversifies the market and contributes to the success of the genres. Cookbook buyers aren’t just fans of kitchen work—they’re fans of video games and movie series passionate enough to let their zeal spill into mealtimes.

The Local: Edmonton Cooks


Local cookbooks have a significant impact on the market, offering locals the chance to re-create dishes from their favourite local haunts, support the city’s chefs and writers, and express their urban identity through culinary delights.

Edmonton Cooks is one such cookbook. The book, written by Edmonton natives Tina Fais and Leanne Brown, guides cooks through recipes from 38 of the city’s restaurants. This isn’t the first cookbook of its kind; the title was commissioned after the success of the similar titles Toronto Cooks and Calgary Cooks, indicating local cookbooks are flourishing across Canada. Like its predecessors, Edmonton Cooks enjoyed great success; it topped Audreys Books’ bestseller list for multiple weeks in late 2016 and became a regional bestseller.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, Faiz provides some insight on the book’s development: “Leanne and I decided that we would include all the restaurants where we loved to eat, but the list was twice as long as it needed to be. So we narrowed it down to places that offered diversity of both ethnicity and style of food…We realized that every place we listed was fiercely independent, had chefs obsessed with technique, flavour and terroir, and they all cared deeply about where their ingredients came from.” She also noted chefs were eager to share their dishes, but determining the written recipes was not always straightforward: “so many chefs don’t use recipes or write things down, or assume that you know what really technical kitchen terms mean.”

Faiz’s explanation provides some insight into the cookbook market. Cookbooks allow chefs to share their identity—whether ethnic, familial, or otherwise—with others. Home cooks can also bring the diversity into their own kitchen participating in a kind of “tourism” as they enjoy dishes from other cultures.

Recipes in a cookbook also carry clout that online alternatives lack; these instructions have been curated, tested, and perfected. The physical binding of cookbooks places a limit on the number of dishes represented, so a buyer knows the recipes have been carefully selected and approved, representing the highest quality the chefs and/or writers can offer.

In contrast, food blogs have unlimited space and can feature as many recipes as they wish. However, the high quantity of recipes may make home cooks dubious of their quality; a collection of thirty or forty credible dishes is preferable to a conglomeration of ten thousand untested and unedited foodstuffs.


Cookbooks are widely available. In most locations, cookbooks warrant their own section near self-help and lifestyle materials. Prices range from ten to fifty dollars. As expected, the larger, hardcover volumes are more expensive than the smaller, paperback or coiled books. Most stores share a similar stock as well, mixing national bestsellers with local volumes.

Audreys Books

Audreys Books is one of the best places to buy cookbooks in the city. Step into the store and you’ll be greeted by a bestseller shelf directly on your left. You’ll probably find a cookbook: Audreys’ weekly bestseller lists regularly feature cookbooks, and sometimes the culinary print takes the top spot. When I investigate the store in July 2017, the hardcover All the Sweet Things is prominently displayed.

Wander a bit farther into the store and you’ll find even more cookbooks. Eight shelves—nearly the entire east wall of the first floor—are dedicated to cookbooks. Three of these eight are further specified with section labels: one as “Professional Cooking” and two as “Ethnic Cooking.” The remainder use small hand-written labels to further organize the books, helping direct the customer to efficiently find what they’re looking for.

Two more shelves near the back of the main floor are dedicated to “nutritional” reads, including food writing, diet guides and some health-focused cookbooks.



Visiting the downtown Coles branch, it doesn’t take me long to locate books boasting culinary delights; a table displays on-sale cookbooks a few steps from the entrance. These books, including Feel Good Food, Best Green Eats Ever, and I Heart My Barbecue, are mostly oversized health-focused and seasonal materials, and are reduced to eight or ten dollars—about half-price. Cookbooks are also shelved near the self-help and lifestyle materials. The stock is like Audreys’, although not quite as large.

Next, I investigate the large Westside Chapters branch and find eighteen shelves and two tables dedicated to cookbooks. Again, these are near the non-fiction and how-to books, and are almost exactly in the middle of the store. A few steps away are displays of trays, utensils, and other culinary knick-knacks that might interest a cookbooks buyer. During my visit, two women begin browsing the cookbook section and end up looking at these items reminding me of BookNet’s assertion that cookbook buyers are more likely to make impulse purchases.

The extensive stock at this location includes a generous collection of some very pricy volumes, including ten copies of the oversized hardcover The Food Lab (priced at $65) and nine copies of Nopi: The Cookbook, a $45 hardcover complete with gold-edged pages and a “Heather’s Picks” recommendation sticker. Both titles are displayed in more than one location, and the numerous copies suggests cookbook buyers are comfortable paying a premium. Cheaper cookbooks are also available, but lack the visibility they were given at the downtown Coles.

Cookbooks Cookbooks

This could be due to the difference in community demographics; according to census data, the average household income is considerably higher on the westside than downtown, so more customers can afford the expensive items.

Edmonton Public Library

Searching for “cookbook” in Edmonton Public Library’s database produces a list of over thirteen hundred printed books. Many titles have multiple copies. For example, the library has forty-seven copies of Edmonton Cooks, twenty-eight of the vegan cookbook , and thirty-three of its sequel, Oh She Glows Everyday. At this moment, all these books—108 in total—are checked out, illustrating their popularity. All three titles are also featured on “recommended” lists compiled by EPL staff members.

I find shelved cookbooks in the non-fiction section at the Enterprise Square branch near the lifestyle and self-help books. While several shelves were dedicated to this genre, they are not clearly labelled, making it more difficult to locate specific types of cookbooks.

Like other locations, many of the items are hardcover and oversized. I also see several familiar titles, such as Modern Sauces and one of Gordan Ramsey’s collections. However, the cookbooks most prominently displayed at commercial sellers are missing because all copies are already in circulation.

Several of the magazines displayed for in-library browsing also boast recipes. Canadian Living and Prevention Magazine both advertise recipes on their covers; other health and lifestyle magazines similarly featured recipes. Often, but not always, the recipes claim to promote health and weight loss.


Drug and Grocery Stores

Commercial drugstore chains like Shoppers Drug Mart and London Drugs also offer a wide variety of hardcover and paperback cookbooks, generally shelved near the self-help and fiction novels. Many of are seasonal, boasting barbequed dishes in the summer and holiday desserts in November and December. Ethnic cookbooks are also available: I find Arabic, Chinese, and Irish cookbooks displayed at a downtown Shoppers.

These stores generally avoid the priciest volumes—most cost between fifteen and thirty dollars. This may be because customers looking for a cookbook aren’t likely to head to their local drugstore, and cheaper items are more conducive to impulse buys.

Drugstores also offer a wide variety of magazines focused on food preparation and culinary arts. They are near the women’s health, garden, and wedding magazines, and cost between seven and fifteen dollars. Again, two common themes amongst these materials are weight loss and seasonal foods.

The stock and pricing of cookbooks at grocery stores is almost identical to drugstores; both magazines and hardcover volumes can be found near the greeting cards with other lifestyle print, and cooking magazines are also stocked near the checkout queues. While it is fairly common for someone to flip through a magazine if waiting in a particularly long line-up, the shelved cookbooks appear to be less popular with consumers. Those seeking out cookbooks seem to be more likely to visit a bookstore.

Other Stores


Craft stores like Micheals also stock a certain type of cookbook. While all cooking can be a craft, these stores carry products directed at bakers and, most specifically, desert decorators, instructing readers on topics such as creating and shaping the perfect buttercream icing and fashioning stylized occasion-themed deserts.

Consumers might also find softcover cookbooks at dollar or bargain stores, although the stock is inconsistent and does not include local volumes.

Second-hand stores also sell a cookbooks. Again, most are oversized and hardcover. Some arerecognizable from Chapters or Audreys, but many are quite old, as cookbooks can be kept in the family and passed down for generations. I noticed many of these volumes were slightly damaged from food spills. Sometimes, recipes would have hand-written in notes, suggesting slight alterations to the instructions.


Although it may seem counter-intuitive at first, the cookbook market is thriving. The genre is noteworthy in its own right, but its success has also been propelled by its ability to take advantage of other aspects of popular culture, like movies, television, and health research. Cookbooks may be changing, but they aren't disappearing any time soon.

Last Updated: Aug 19, 2017