September 22, 2014 Last Updated 3:35 pm

Alta Editions launches Kickstarter campaign to fund expansion of online cookbook publishing efforts

Each Monday, TNM looks at books, eBooks and book publishers – either a new book on the publishing industry, a new digital book release, or industry news

The online cookbook publisher Alta Editions has launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a new book project and to gauge interest in online cookbooks.

The person behind Alta Editions is Chris McBride, who developed the business while at Fox Mobile Group / Jesta Digital. McBride acquired the business following the sale of Jesta Digital to Freenet AG.

web-cover-journey“I worked in the Internet industry my whole career,” McBride told TNM. “I graduated college in ’94 and six months later I started a website for concert tapes and sold that company – it was called (Worldwide Internet Live Music Archive.)”

“This project originally started as a corporate project,” McBride said. “My job was to look into market opportunities, so when I saw the iPad come out I thought, we do most of our business on mobile feature phones and Android, but the iPad is potentially an exciting new distribution opportunity. So I presented this opportunity of publishing books on the iPad and I ended up choosing cooking because I thought it was an area that hadn’t really been developed digitally and had some opportunity.”

McBride said he has a “personal connection” to cooking – not only loving cooking himself, but he was the co-founder of Savory Cities which produced chef-focused restaurant guides.

“I ended up signing a book deal with a Michelin three-star chef,” McBride said. “We took a year to put that together. We did everything, we did all the production ourselves – the photography, the manuscript editing…obviously hiring a lot of folks to help us with that.”

“We learned a ton in the process. Principally how time consuming and expensive and difficult it is to publish a full length cookbook.”

Alta Editions published three such projects: the two-part series called The Journey, which features women chefs working in New York City, and the book Laurent Gras: My Provence. But the emphasis now is now on compilation cookbooks, rather than chef-driven projects, McBride believing that the projects will be easier and less expensive to produce.

“Our job is to do the consolidation, aggregation of all that great content,” McBride said. “But more than that, it is to take that library and say ‘how can we serve the reader, the cook in the best way possible through things like searching and browsing and customization and personalization – all these things we have been working on and thinking about for the last 20 years of the Internet, trying to solve that problem of ‘you want to cook a meal this weekend, you want to make it special, you want to make it from things you can find in the local market’. How do we put that next great recipe in front of you so you feel like we just saved you time and you get to tell a little story about it to your friends when they come over for dinner. You feel really good about that experience. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

“From the beginning,” McBride said, “it has always been digital. The thinking is that illustrated books some how, some way, should be made available to people on the digital platforms they use. But we weren’t seeing really great tools available though Kindle or iBooks at the time, and felt like the web was a big opportunity, so I’ve held fast to that position that the web is the best place for cookbooks to be published digitally.”

altaeditions-iphoneThis lack of good tools for publishing to digital devices is why Alta Editions is concentrating on online publishing, rather than creating eBooks… or print books.

“Of course, I love print cookbooks. Tons of people still love them and buy them, but the convenience factor of being to have them online also is really compelling,” McBride said.

“One of the things I’ve been interested in is this concept that the person who comes to the recipe, the home cook, they might be of a wide range of possible skill levels. You might have someone who is a total beginner, you might have someone who is extremely comfortable and can read a recipe once and cook based on that information. So what we’ve tried to do is that when we work with our chef-authors is to get as much detail on every single tip, technique, ingredient and all that stuff so those into annotations.”

McBride-screen“And the one thing about digital that you can’t do with paper is video,” McBride said. “We’ve added them, obviously, to the recipes and the step-by-step flows we have today. But I think we have some cool ideas in both cooking instruction area, and also with the sort-of inspiration angle where you might read a head note on a recipe to find the back story for why you might want to cook it. But wouldn’t it also be nice to hear from the author-chef in a short vignette on why the recipe is meaningful to them?”

Alta Editions will attempt to publish a “handful” of books a year. As the projects may involve licensed content, we would love it if traditional print publishers thought about gathering the assets necessary to create these types of digital cookbooks as Alta Editions.

Now that he is on his own again, McBride is using Kickstarter to raise funds for the next online cookbook, to be called Unconventional. The goal is $18,000 and the funding campaign still has ten days to go (you can find the Kickstarter campaign here).

“Kickstarter is a fantastic platform for gauging interest. So, I felt if I could go out there and tell our story to as many people as possible – both people I know, friends and family and people in the industry – that if we do find modest success there it proves there is validity in the idea,” McBride said.

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