Ci5 Education: Starting a Book Subscription Club

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Children's Institute logoLast month’s ABC Children’s Institute included the education session “Starting a Book Subscription Club,” which featured bookseller panelists Amanda Zirn of Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, Delaware; Kate Laubernds of Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon; and moderator Sarah Taylor of The Bookworm of Edwards in Edwards, Colorado.

Bethany Beach Books is a seasonal store that is busy from Memorial Day through Labor Day, said Zirn. “Starting a subscription box was something to help subsidize our income and revenue during the winter months,” she said. The store launched The Book Drop in February 2015, using the tagline “Bringing the independent bookstore to you from Bethany Beach, Delaware.”

Through The Book Drop’s children’s and young adult subscription boxes, Bethany Beach Books aims to share diverse characters and books that broaden young readers’ horizons, which Zirn said is appreciated by a lot of parents. The planning of title selections takes place four to five months ahead of each box and coincides with meetings with the store’s publisher sales reps, who are all aware of the program.

“Not every town has an independent bookstore; people are really only getting their book suggestions and recommendations from the grocery store or online,” said Zirn. “There are so many hidden gems out there that unless you’re immersed in the book world, you’re missing out on so many books.” Due to a plug on Buzzfeed, The Book Drop now has 700 subscribers, including both national and international readers.

Customers set up their subscription to The Book Drop online and select whether they want a month-to-month plan, a three-month prepaid subscription, or a six-month prepaid plan. The cost depends on the type of subscription (adult, young adult, or children’s). Regular subscriptions are renewed automatically but gift subscriptions do not renew, and customers are welcome to cancel their subscriptions at any time. If a customer informs Bethany Beach that they already have a particular month’s title or do not want it, they are reminded that it’s a subscription and are encouraged to pass it along to another book lover, said Zirn.

Powell’s Books, which has four stores in the Portland metro area, just launched its children’s picture book subscription box to about 150 subscribers in March, said Laubernds. Called Boox, the program leverages the experience of a panel of staffers who choose new releases (books published within the past three months) for shipment every eight weeks.

The first box, on the theme of magical creatures and the sea, contained the featured title Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), plus the remaindered title Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination by local author Emily Winfield Martin (Random House Books for Young Readers) and a narwhal plush.

Customers are looking for value, said Laubernds, so the selection process is just as rigorous for the remaindered title as it is for the featured title. Additional inclusions might be stickers, buttons, or other items. An illustrated card, created by a staffer with graphic design skills, includes information about the contents of the box. The children’s box is gender-neutral, noted Laubernds, and the titles chosen for the program are generally ones that all children will enjoy.

Laubernds works several months ahead of each scheduled box to coordinate its contents. The program cost of $35.95, including shipping, is billed every eight weeks and customers are notified ahead of the ship date about the titles they will be receiving. Shipping is handled through USPS contractors.

The Bookworm of Edwards is a seasonal store that is busy during the winter ski season and during the summer, so the store’s subscription service ensures consistent income during the four months of the year that business at The Bookworm is slow, said Taylor. Through the subscription program, which delivers books to states all over the country, the store is able to stay connected to customers that it might see only once a year, she added.

Bookworm’s subscription program includes an adult subscription box called “Trust Me, You’ll Love It,” the “Give Fifteen” box for young readers, and the “Adopt a Reader” box, which allows givers to sponsor a child in need. For the latter two programs, Taylor hand-selects a title for each child based on their age and interests.

Give Fifteen, which has nearly 80 subscribers, delivers 15 books per year to the reader: one per month plus two in December and three during his or her birthday month. Adopter a Reader currently serves about 30 children but the program is growing, said Taylor. Each box includes a wrapped book and a hand-written note from either the giver or Taylor herself. Subscribers are charged for the cost of each month’s book with a 10 percent discount applied, plus flat-rate shipping; charges are processed through

Taylor uses Excel spreadsheets to track each child in the program, what titles they (or their siblings) have received in the past, details about the child’s interests, and contact information, she said. Taylor orders titles for the program from Ingram, but can usually pull them off the shelves in November and December, which she noted can be helpful for inventory control.

Past coverage of the 2017 Children’s Institute plenaries, featured talks, and education sessions is also available in Bookselling This Week.