South China Morning Post curates content into profitable cookbook


When it comes to dreaming up a premium to help boost subscriptions, we have many choices: developing branded merchandise, partnering with retailers for freebies, giving away some rarely used, trendy wine corkscrew or some ultrasonic pulse monitor and the like.

At the South China Morning Post, we decided last August to do something that took a bit more effort, but which was altogether more special and brand enhancing. Also, it was an idea that gave us additional revenue potential beyond the subscription sales.

As purveyors of daily content, we are sitting on a treasure trove of information and news that continues to accumulate over the life of our products. The majority of news content is outdated pretty quickly, but recipes are perennial, so we decided to create our very first cookbook to use as a premium.

It’s certainly a lot more work than buying an off-the-shelf solution from a book-licensing company and repackaging it as our own, but there’s an ingredient of unique brand engagement that can’t be replaced.

Our food editor, Susan Jung, has been with us for more than 15 years, and has a loyal following among our readers. Each week in our Sunday Post Magazine, she writes extensively about food, restaurants, and has a regular spot providing sumptuous recipes to try out. Each recipe is beautifully photographed and carries Susan’s signature down-to-earth tone.

Trained as a professional pastry chef and journalist, and a regular face at most of the great dining establishments in Hong Kong, Susan not only compiled a list of her 60 favourite recipes with editorial top notes, but also gave an additional twist to the cookbook by persuading 20 of Hong Kong’s top chefs to part with some of their best recipes.

These recipes were added to the collection, complete with stunning photography and step-by-step instruction on how to recreate culinary masterpieces at home. The result was “A Celebration of Food,” a book we could truly call our own, featuring 80 recipes for dining occasions involving family, friends, and feasts.

We designed, produced and printed the book in-house, and launched it in late November in time for Christmas, with a lovely champagne reception held for new subscribers and featured chefs.

Susan gave a speech and signed copies. Additionally, we secured direct distribution through all of the top book retailers in Hong Kong and conducted some “celebrity” book signings at selected stores.

Our book became an instant bestseller, ranking as the fourth top-selling non-fiction book and the best-selling cookbook during the holiday season, beating even the likes of Nigella, Jamie and Gordon.

Of course, it’s still there on the shelves, and will still be there next holiday season. Cookbooks are fairly timeless, and so we expect to continue selling for a few years more.

As an aside, the book was a very well-received Christmas gift among our advertisers and partners, and has added considerably to the already strong reputation of our food editor, boosting her must-read features every week.

We’ve still got the e-book version to work on, to help encourage downloads of our iPad and online versions, as well as distribution deals outside of Hong Kong, to tap into those interested in our local cuisine. All in all, lots of delicious oppourtunities, and a very satisfying project that has made us hungry to work on the next one! 

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