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Bantam Leaving Cookbook Business

September 12, 1996|RUSS PARSONS | TIMES DEPUTY FOOD EDITOR

Bantam, publisher of such well-known authors as Deborah Madison, Martha Rose Shulman, Colman Andrews and Sylvia Thompson, is getting out of the cookbook business.

Fran McCullough, the senior consulting editor who handled all of Bantam's cookbooks, says she was advised of the decision several weeks ago.

She added that the demise of the cookbook line reflects more on the nature of Bantam itself than the cookbook business in general.

"We did well with books that are by well-known authors, some of whom we made well-known, or books that are really high concept," McCullough said. But she said Bantam was not geared to support other books, "the books that you have to make happen."

"This house basically comes out of a mass-market background and it doesn't do a lot of illustrated books and heavily designed books, like most cookbooks tend to be. Those books take extra time and effort. Also, we don't tour authors and we don't have a large cookbook publicity program. There is kind of a huge drop between books that do very well and books that don't do very well."

Erwin Applebaum, Bantam's publisher and president, confirmed the decision. "We're going to put our editorial energies into other areas and not really compete actively in the cookbook market," he said.

Bantam has several cookbooks scheduled for this year and next, including a major project by Madison that is being billed as the "Joy of Cooking" of vegetarian cookbooks and a fall book by Andrews on the cooking on the French and Italian Riviera.

Applebaum says he plans to go forward with those books. "Our intention is to honor all of our commitments as we always try to do," he said. "Basically, we have a number of cookbooks that we're going to continue to publish, and a backlist that we will continue to publish actively," he said.

The Bantam backlist--previously published books the company keeps available for sale--includes such well-known cookbooks as Madison's "The Greens Cookbook." That book marked Bantam's entry into the cookbook field in 1986 and has sold 315,000 copies. Shulman's "Mediterranean Light" has sold 140,000 copies.

"Those are pretty good numbers for home-developed product," McCullough said. In cookbook publishing, aside from the rare blockbuster authors such as Jeff Smith, the Silver Palate authors or Martha Stewart (or books by Oprah Winfrey's chef or David Letterman's mom), sales of 100,000 copies are considered a substantial success.

Madison, though, wants out. "I'm in the process of trying to move my book to another publisher," she said. "It seems to me if Bantam isn't going to continue to develop their cookbook line, it's hard to imagine that they care very much about my book. I've been working on this for five years and I want it to be published by a company that is really committed to cookbooks and not just be the tail end of a line."

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