General Question

kneesox's avatar

What's the problem with selling older cookbooks?

Asked by kneesox (3589points) 2 months ago

I took a load of books to the Recycle Bookstore yesterday, a cross section or sampling to see what they might like to get more of. I really thought all the things I took were pretty juicy, but the buyer didn’t take very much.

One of the things he brushed aside was a large, well-illustrated, comprehensive volume of Asian cooking across many nations, ethnicities, and cultures. He said there’s not much interest in older cookbooks.

I thought cookbooks had a use life of centuries! I thought they were practically immortal in used bookstores. This Asian collection was published in 1976, and I bought this edition in 1990. How can recipes grow obsolete? I can’t imagine that anything in there couldn’t be cooked now, to great success.

What’s the deal with older cookbooks, do you know?

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19 Answers

janbb's avatar

I think people are looking more and more to the internet now for all recipes and using cookbooks less and less. That’s just my observation.

kneesox's avatar

He specified “older.” Cookbooks have always been great sellers, and maybe they’re not so much so now. But if that’s the case, why “older” in particular?

janbb's avatar

Perhaps it’s just a function of that store’s experience and you have to go to a specialize store. See the article below. It is two years old:

Zaku's avatar

I don’t know, except that some of the newer cookbooks have lush full-color photography, and/or follow the latest food fashions, and may be written in a different style.

Personally I’d tend to find older cookbooks quite interesting and tempting. But I may not represent the majority of cookbook-buyers.

kritiper's avatar

More traditional American cookbooks would be a hot seller in my book. But not so much Asian or other cultural cookbooks.

kneesox's avatar

Lush full-page, full-color photography, encyclopedia-volume size, glossy coated stock, 500 pages plus glossary, table of equivalents and substitutions, and index.

My question is really about why “older” cookbooks are out of favor—regardless of type or orientation.

I’d probably do better with a yard sale, even though that sounds like a pain.

Nomore_lockout's avatar

Sounds to me like the guy just wasn’t interested. Maybe you should try another book store. Don’t know you have a “Half Price Books” or “Buy and Sale Used Books” shop in your area, maybe try something along those lines. They usually buy anything in half way good condition.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Cookbooks are pretty much on the way out. As others have said, the internet has become the norm, and for many reasons.

The internet is paperless (unless a recipe is printed). The site I use allows me to plug in an ingredient(s) on hand and immediately produce recipes that include them. It can sort by quick/easy/cheap/healthy/veg./nationality, etc. It can provide measurements needed by # of servings and in imperial/metric. Reviews are valuable for any suggestions, and the rating score can say it all. The site allows me to save selected recipes, plan a menu for a period of time, and it can generate a shopping list. A cookbook does none of this.

kneesox's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer, that’s true. But a cookbook does not require anything to be plugged in or use a battery. One of these days that’s going to be seen as valuable, not just for cookbooks but across the board.

You can also add your own notes to it, browse easily, flag pages you want to mark, and enjoy the full-page color photos. You don’t have to build your own binder or cope with a lot of loose pages. I think there are still plenty of people who see those as pluses. But maybe we first have to lose the old technology before we know enough to want to preserve it.

filmfann's avatar

Cook books today need to utilize diet trends and air fryers or instant pots.

kneesox's avatar

Oh, is that it, @filmfann? Hmm. I don’t do any of those, so I didn’t think of them. I suppose there always has to be something new, even if there was nothing wrong with the old. That thinking is an American trait that I’ve never been comfortable with.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

@kneesox The original question was regarding surprise that the cookbooks you wanted to sell weren’t considered of value.

The answer is that, as always, people progress. Mom passed away a few years ago. In clearing out her house, none of the family members wanted her cookbooks. Her personal recipe file held more interest. These were written on index cards, sorted and stored in a box. The family favorites were shared via copies, photos, or scans.

Food evolves. The world has become smaller as travel and technology grows. In my US family alone, we have married people from Colombia, Korea, Spain, France, UK, and Mexico. With their cultural differences, it brings new tastes to the table.

Cupcake's avatar

The above answers are great. I just want to add that if you ever go to a used bookstore or a donation center within a library… something like that, it’s chock full of old cookbooks. They are clearly not very desirable, as many more people are getting rid of them than adding to their collection.

I have a number of cookbooks that I am very attached to, but I also follow a paleo diet and almost exclusively have cookbooks within that realm. I do have some classics (to me), like an encyclopedia of cooking vegetables (with SO MUCH INFORMATION!) and an America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, which is half science.

jca2's avatar

I enjoy looking at any cookbooks (newer or older) because I like to read the stories in them and look at the photos. I also enjoy looking at local cookbooks, the types that are made by the Junior Leage or church groups or other organizations. They’re a good way to look at family histories, and see the names of the residents of a town, and maybe read some reminiscing. I also used to like going to the library and reading Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazines.

When I was little, my mom had the Women’s Day cookbook and she would also have a binder with loose recipes and also a recipe box. My mom got a lot of recipes from the NY Times, and sometimes she’d try them out. She was adventurous like that. My grandmother had a recipe box, too.

I don’t purchase too many cookbooks now, because I just don’t have the space. I do have the Moosewood Cookbook which is great, and has some great tips in it When I need a recipe now, I usually google it and come up with a zillion variations.

Brian1946's avatar


Why are you trying to sell your older cookbooks?

kneesox's avatar

@Brian1946, my details say that I took a sampling of a larger quantity. There was one cookbook and one each of about ten other genres, including history, biography, classics, and recent paperback fiction. I wanted to see what he might be interested in, and the reject that surprised me was the cookbook, so that’s the one I asked about.

If I can’t sell them, I’ll donate them to a place that takes anything and sells them to support programs for people with disabilities.

For space reasons, I’m trying to reduce what’s on my bookshelves and take a hard look at the things I won’t read again or don’t use any more. I don’t cook like that now. Never going to let The Joy of Cooking go, though. You never know when you might suddenly need to roast a squirrel or a bear.

Smashley's avatar

Cookbooks are sort of historical artifacts that describe the diets of certain people at certain times. They become obsolete not because they are paper, and books are yesterday, but because tastes, influences, and food availability change over time.

In general, in America at least, food hit a low point in the 50s with the dominance of processed and tasteless foods. Most cook books from that era are literally disgusting to read, and offer few applicable lessons. Since then, food culture has slowly developed into something more vibrant. Even seminal classics like Beard on Bread or Moosewood use now outdated techniques.

Forever_Free's avatar

There is nothing wrong with old cookbooks. Some of my favorite ones in my kitchen are just that. Many of my go-to recipes are from a 1950’s McCalls or older Julia Child cookbook.

I’ll take it!

Inspired_2write's avatar

Selling it may be harder but donating to a Museum might be easier.

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