Over the weekend, product manager and engineer Tom Redman announced on Twitter that he and two friends were launching Recipeasly, a website for those looking to collect online recipes without having to read the many words of the recipe’s creator. The site, he advertises, is “your favourite recipes except without the ads or life stories.”
Within three hours of his announcement, Redman tweeted that the new site “struck a chord,” though not the chord he and his co-creators were likely hoping for. The trope of cooking bloggers launching into long-winded, often personal introductions before sharing a recipe is enough of a widespread pet peeve that they surely thought their new tool would be useful and welcome. However, Redman was met by instant pushback from critics who immediately pointed out that Recipeasly, as described, was stealing other people’s work. As Food and Wine senior editor Kat Kinsman tweeted, “Wait, so you are just stealing content, eliminating context and creator revenue, and diminishing the labor that is the only way these recipes exist in the first place because you have decided the humans behind them are annoying?”
Recipeasly, Redman argued, had been mischaracterized, largely by its own marketing. He tweeted that the site functioned less by republishing recipe writers’ work and more as an online recipe box, with saved recipes “only visible to the user who imported them — similar to if a user had printed the recipe or copied it into a doc.” Twitter users quickly debunked this about-face, showing screenshots of links being advertised to them as newly uploaded on Recipeasly. Redman also claimed that the company’s goal was to provide recipe bloggers with a new way to generate income outside of ads, qualifying that “we just need get our foot in the door & believe beginning with end users is the way,” i.e. providing free content, and then possibly evolving into a subscription model later. It’s a strategy with a historically murky success rate, and one that begins with demonetizing bloggers’ platforms.
As of now, Recipeasly’s content has been replaced with an apology. “We have nothing but respect and admiration for the time, money, and effort that go into creating great recipes & websites. We don’t want to minimize the results for all that hard work,” it says. “We realize we’re not demonstrating the huge respect we have for recipe creators. We missed the mark big time today and we’re sorry.” The site has been taken down as the creators “re-examine our impact.”
Wait, so you are just stealing content, eliminating context and creator revenue, and diminishing the labor that is the only way these recipes exist in the first place because you have decided the humans behind them are annoying?
— Kat Kinsman (@kittenwithawhip) March 1, 2021
This app strips a recipe of any obvious recognition of the author who actually spent days, weeks, sometimes months working on the recipe. Having the “original” button is not adequate attribution. Nor are the writers compensated. Just no.
— Lisa Lin (@hellolisalin) February 28, 2021
Lawyers also noted that the site could run into copyright issues in some countries. UK lawyer Mark Blunden told BBC that “If someone has created a recipe and put it into writing, then like any other literary work it will automatically attract copyright protection.” In the U.S. copyright law doesn’t protect “a mere listing of ingredients,” but “where a recipe or formula is accompanied by substantial literary expression in the form of an explanation or directions… there may be a basis for copyright protection.” There is also the issue of reproducing photography or illustrations, which some bloggers say Recipeasly did without permission.
Eater has reached out to the creators of Recipeasly for more detail about how the site was going to work, and their thoughts on the future of the brand.
But as frustrating as the founders’ goals were, it’s also the logical conclusion of an internet culture that has long whined about having to scroll through essays, stories, and paragraphs-long headnotes to get to a free recipe. When labor is devalued for that long, some tech bro is going to come around to “fix” it.
One supporter responded to Redman, saying they often felt “held hostage by the blogger’s life story,” as if they couldn’t scroll through or move on to the next tab at will. The complaint is familiar enough — here’s a person spending hundreds of words telling a story about their dog or a hike they took, when all I wanted was to know how to make lemon bars. These complaints ignore how headnotes and stories usually give context and understanding to a recipe, especially if it’s from a culture the user isn’t familiar with. And of course, the person writing the recipe is most often a woman, giving the complaint a tinge of misogyny — it’s still an uphill battle to get domestic labor like cooking and recipe development to be considered work worthy of compensation.
Yes, sometimes the preceding essay on a recipe is tedious musings on the writer’s marriage. Yes, sometimes you don’t actually care about the aunt who inspired a vegan goulash. But even then, this was never actually a problem. Most blogs feature either a “jump to recipe” link at the top, or there’s the handy ctrl+F = “recipe” shortcut to get you where you want to be. Essays meanwhile allow bloggers to make money off search engine optimization (or SEO, which scans the essays for keywords and relevant search terms) and ads allow the blog to remain free for readers.
Fortunately, the backlash against Recipeasly shows that more people are thinking about recipe development and online content creation from freelance or self-employed bloggers in terms of valued labor. Whatever recipe you’re using, someone took time to create it, which means they’re deserving of credit and compensation, both of which Recipeasly — inadvertently or not — tried to to sidestep.