Two million food books, worth almost sixty million dollars, were sold in Australia in 2006 (Neilsen Bookscan). Writing about food and drink in fiction and non fiction formats makes up a significant proportion of the books written, published, sold and read each year in Australia and other parts of the English-speaking world.
Although food books, and in particular cook books, remain among the best sellers in the non-fiction category, beaten only by biographies, they have had their ups and downs since 2006. In the later part of the decade, sales continued to rise, with an increase of 35 per cent between 2008 and 2010.
However, an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2012 highlighted a slow down in 2011, even though the year’s top-selling book was a cook book: Jamie’s 30-Minute Meals. The Herald attributed the fall in sales to the increasing popularity of Google as a recipe source. Book sales in general were also falling, as electronic reading devices became more common.
The main publishers of food books were Murdoch Books (acquired in 2012 by Allen & Unwin), Lantern Press (part of the Penguin group and publishers of Stephanie Alexander’s books) and Hardie Grant who publish Margaret Fulton’s cook books. Publishers interviewed in 2012 said that celebrity cook books remained good sellers, as well as books that catered to specific food trends.
The downward trend in printed book sales seems to have been arrested in later years. In 2018 Nielsen BookScan reported a 1.3 per cent increase in overall sales. Dymocks booksellers reported a 39 to 50 per cent increase in non-fiction sales, with biographies and cook books the most significant categories. Food trends continue to influence sales, with the fashionable keto diet helping to push the category forward.
In August 2018, the Sydney Morning Herald published a list of the top ten food books according to BookScan. Seven of the ten were about diet – weight loss, keto and low carb.