Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cookstr Comes to Town

Received an e-mail this morning from MW (with whom I'll be dining at the Taiwanese wonder - Lavender Cafe in Morgantown - tomorrow). She forwarded on this story from the New York Times about a new website called Cookstr.

Cookstr, which will be supported by advertising revenues, will aggregate recipes from published cookbooks. All of the authors will have their own pages, with biographies, links to recipes and books, and in the case of restaurant chefs, links to their locations on Google maps.

Visitors to the site can search for recipes using a wide range of parameters, from the more obvious — ingredients, season, occasion — to more specialized criteria, like lactose-free, kid-friendly or requires-only-one-pot-to-cook. The site will start with 2,500 recipes, most likely to increase to 10,000 within a year.

I am by no means a copyright expert. But I gather there has been a fairly large subset of food blog conversations about whether and when it is appropriate to publish a recipe from a cookbook on your own blog. My take has been to link to it if it's online somewhere else, or to source it appropriately if I've changed the recipe enough that it really could be considered a new dish.

I wonder if Cookstr will clear up the mess about recipes online or confuse the issue more.

The Terms of Use state:

You are hereby granted, subject to these terms and conditions, a limited, revocable, non-exclusive, non-transferable, fully-paid, royalty-free license solely to view the screens and materials on the Web Site and to print only such limited number of hard copies of discrete excerpts of those screens and materials as is needed for your own internal, non-commercial, non-public use in order for you obtain information presented on or through the Web Site (the “Web Site License”). Permitted access to and use of the Web Site is limited to your viewing the Web Site solely to access information displayed thereon. You are not permitted to download any Web Site Content. You are also not permitted to copy/paste any Web Site Content from the Web Site for use in any manner.

So Cookstr is saying keep your grubby, Internet-Tubey paws off the Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V keys while you're on our site. But go ahead and print it off so you can keep using it personally forever.

Here's the my blog personal use or commercial? I mean, have you heard me gloating about GoogleAd revenue anytime recently? Or anytime?

And if I took all the AdSense and Google Search ads stuff off the site, does that remove and legal 'commercial' aspect to my site?

I was heartened to read two of the quotes from authors.

Mollie Katzen, author of “The Moosewood Cookbook,” said she was not worried about the site’s pre-empting book sales. “There’s a whole lot more than the sum of its parts, a kind of presence and ambience that a book has that isn’t just a critical mass of recipes,” Ms. Katzen said. “A lot of the feedback that people have given me on my books is that they like to curl up in a chair with it.”

You're right Mollie. In fact, I did that just yesterday with my well-worn copy of Low-Fat Favorites. So Mollie's on board with the good cookbooks being so much more than a collection of recipes.

My all-time favorite example of that notion is The Daily Soup Cookbook, where the authors are witty like Ace of Cakes on a page. If you're not into that humor, then forget it. But the stories of customers reactions to soups in the margins of the recipes, the periodic table of soups, noting that the tongue is a required utensil in cooking soups, and recommending listening to any Menudo song while preparing and eating their Yucatan Chicken Lime soup.

And I digress by pointing out that you really can "read" a cookbook like a novel. If it's the right cookbook.

Joan Nathan, the author of “Jewish Cooking in America” and “The New American Cooking,” said she suspected that the current ubiquity of recipes online had diminished sales of her most recent book. But she hoped Cookstr might still attract new buyers.

“Who knows?” Ms. Nathan said. “I guess I hope for something wonderful. The worst-case scenario for me is that people use my recipes.”

And finally, let that sink in. Perhaps, just maybe, people who cook and write books understand more than others who "X" and write books about it that while they may be selling copies, they are also giving something. That admission probably just got Ms. Nathan one more sale. I'd like to make the food that comes from the heart of the person who thinks the worst thing that could happen in the tubes is that someone gets the gumption to actually cook her recipes.

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