Commentary

E-readers Get Cookin'

EggsRAM_OM_0311The fast-growing e-reader market is finding its way into the American kitchen.

Austin,Texas-based Key Ingredient is betting that the explosion of low-cost e-readers will make information about preparing food an underserved content niche. The firm, a veteran of the online publishing wars, has been offering Web-based cooking tips, recipes and blogs for about five years. The site is a mix of home cooking tips, social content, blogs and professional advice about food prep and the culinary life. The mainstream cooking elite have taken notice. Martha Stewart and Oprah have reviewed and recommended the product on their respective media outlets.

Recently Key Ingredient developed its own custom-made, proprietary content device called the Demy. This $200 touch-based e-reader functions a lot like an iPhone or Android device: It has a touch-activated screen, access to apps, Web support and the usual array of e-book features aimed at cooks and cooking. While it's no iPhone in terms of form and functionality, the Demy can sync to content on the Web, hold vast amounts of recipes, and support basic apps. But unlike the iPhone and the Motorola Droid, the unit is splash-resistant - it's made of kitchen-safe plastic which can be cleaned with a damp cloth - and can work near warm stoves and ovens. It also comes with handy cooking features like a timer, conversion scale and substitution hints.

"We are finding that by putting all the information we have online within reach of the user as they cook, retention and usability is higher," says Wendy Jenkins, Key Ingredient's president.

Jenkins is betting that the e-reader design will address many of the pitfalls of network-enabled kitchen appliances, one of the Internet's classic nonstarters. Fridges and ovens with PCs mounted in them - like those from Whirlpool, Samsung and LG - have never sold with gusto. By keeping the e-reader separate from the appliances, Jenkins says, users can place the tools - and the content - where they like them as they cook.

The Demy is bucking several of the Web's deepest trends. First, the unit is not entirely cloud-based; it requires syncing software that must be installed on a laptop before it can work properly. Second, most syncing must be done by hand. Third, there is debate over the value of a limited online community of cook apps. Are users better off sharing on Facebook and Twitter?

Still, the Demy does offer some interesting trends for marketers: E-readers are now enough of a commodity that even a small firm can produce one. That means even small advertisers can sponsor one.

"What we can do with this kind of access is only beginning," says Jenkins. "It will all be about getting our users exactly what they want when they want it."

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