Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 11/13-11/17

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

The 2018 National Book Awards winners were announced Wednesday.

An investor proposed a deal to take Barnes & Noble private.

Radhika Jones will be Vanity Fair’s new editor.

Amazon marketplace sellers may be subject to state sales tax.

Superman editor Eddie Berganza has been fired from DC Comics after allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Beginner’s Guide to Subscription Boxes

If you’ve checked the mail lately, you know that subscription boxes are a booming business. Industries from clothing to cosmetics to home cooking have been experimenting with the format since the 2010 launch of Birchbox. This isn’t new territory for publishing, which got into the subscription game in 1926 with the Book of the Month Club (still alive and thriving), but the present surge in popularity has inspired scores of booksellers, book lovers, and book publishers to flex their entrepreneurial muscles in new ways.

A typical book box is released on a regular schedule, usually monthly or quarterly, and includes both curated books and some kind of perk. That perk might take the form of hand-wrapping or personalized recommendations, or it might look like themed accessories and insider access. There are about as many ways to pack a box as there are people to open it up. These boxes, like the books they contain, market themselves to specific readers. Broadly speaking, some boxes aim towards one of many age groups, some toward a particular interest, and others to demographics hungry for representation.

Who’s Reading?

Age-specific boxes are especially handy for children and the people who read to them. Bookroo and Lillypost offer up monthly parcels of board and picture books, each title hand-wrapped, with variants for both the young (3+) and the very young (0-2). For the more independent child, there are services like LitJoy, which caters to readers of all ages, though with an eye toward the junior set. Lovers of middle grade, for example, can sign up for boxes that include two new books each month, accompanied with three to five bookish items. And, as sales in recent years have shown, young adult does well with pretty much everyone. (Per LitJoy’s own FAQ: “Most customers who purchase our Young Adult Crate are between 20 and 30.” YA fandom also drives boxes like OwlCrate, which tailors each of its monthly installments around a theme: past examples include “Make It Out Alive,” “Fast Times at YA High,” and “Leading Ladies.” Typically, these boxes include a carefully-chosen book or two and some additional goodies, like apparel and accessories. 

No matter what grade level they’re geared to, some boxes like these are envisioned as social spaces. “LitJoy is a community,” says co-founder Alix Adams. “We interact with subscribers and they interact with each other. There isn’t really an agenda beyond creating a space where readers can unbox the joy of reading every month, then come onto social platforms and talk about it.” (And readers, whether they use subscription boxes or not, come onto social platforms in droves, from Twitter and Facebook to #bookstagram and BookTube.) Today’s kids – and their parents – can look forward to reading books they might never have encountered otherwise, knowing that plenty of other people are reading with them.

Navigating the Stacks

For adult readers, book boxes can be a way to celebrate an interest, hobby, or lifestyle, whether literary or not. That’s certainly true of Cozy Reader Club, which delivers a little bit of luxury each month: a typical installment delivers coffee, tea, or hot chocolate alongside handmade goods and a new hardcover.  “We do see ourselves as a guide to good books, but also as a timesaver for our subscribers,” says owner Heather Viner. “They may not have time to research upcoming novels that they would like or have time to go to the bookstore and pick out a book.” Typical subscribers, says Viner, “enjoy locally sourced and handmade products and are looking for a temporary escape from the stresses in everyday life.” And some vendors offer boxes that are just the extra stuff. The Bookish Box, geared towards teens and adults alike, is designed for “stylish bookworms” and includes a specialty t-shirt plus home and beauty wares.

Box creators also have a unique opportunity to provide their customers with a special connection to a given title or subject. Book Riot’s Quarterly Literary Box provides its subscribers with hand-written notes and special annotations from the featured book’s author, plus a few complementary reads. Genre boxes like My Thrill Club specialize in guiding both new and longtime enthusiasts to gems they may have missed. 

To distinguish themselves from competitors, any book box will emphasize its ability to create a unique experience. At Read Dog, there’s no more unique experience than one that’s totally personalized: each customer receives different, individually-chosen books based on their interests. “We view ourselves as a brand that aligns books with community,” says cofounder Michael Wray. And who makes up that community? The typical subscriber is “older and female,” he says, and points with pride to the Facebook group Read Dog Readers, which has nearly 500 members at the time of this piece.

Boosting Diverse Writers

Besides bringing readers together by age or interest, book boxes have one more very real power: they can act as megaphones for underrepresented voices, getting books into the hands of readers who may not see themselves in the bestseller charts. That’s the thinking behind projects like Call Number and the Just Like Me! Box, which offer quality Black literature for adults and children.

Jamillah Gabriel, the academic librarian who founded Call Number, has a very clear mission. “I would say that one of my purposes in working in the industry is to act as a gateway to great African Diasporic literature,” she says. She wants “to promote authors. To expose readers to the literature, those who might not seek it out on their own, or who might not know where to look to find it. And also to bring awareness to libraries and their importance to society.”

Gabriel chooses the books herself, “based on a few factors: what my tastes are, what I think will have wide appeal, or what I feel should have more exposure, especially if it’s an author with a unique style that’s not necessarily mainstream.” This approach – focused on a particular kind of voice with wide leeway for form and content – certainly seems to appeal to subscribers. In fact, Gabriel says, “I’m not sure I have a typical subscriber, as they seem to cover different races, ethnicities, and genders. But I think my box holds the most appeal for African-American women, and any readers who just enjoy diversifying their reading experiences.”

A diversified reading experience is especially important for kids. While the publishing industry as a whole is notoriously white, children’s books in particular have been struggling to branch out. Founder Tamara McNeil sees Just Like Me! Box as one way to push for change. “I’m hoping that as our company grows, publishers will take notice and begin to publish and promote more diverse children’s literature,” she says. “Our subscriber base proves there’s a need and desire for more African-American children’s literature.”

Like many of its neighbors in the children’s market, Just Like Me! Box offers several options for different reading levels: subscribers can choose boxes for kids aged 0-3, 4-8, or 9-12. Gifts and educational tools are also included. “We choose African-American themed books based on educational value, merit and awards. We’ve compiled a master list of books we found on our own and those sent from publishers and independent authors,” says McNeil.

What’s Next?

It’s hard to say exactly what the future holds for the book box boom. There are already concerns that the overall market is reaching a saturation point, though how that might play out for publishing – as opposed to cosmetics or mattresses – remains to be seen.

What’s clear is that these services have changed the way readers, authors, and publishers think of what access to a title should look like. In particular, independent authors can benefit from seeing their work included in boxes like these, especially if they’re working with smaller print runs or limited distribution. And for the big houses, involvement with a book box means a new avenue of engagement with dedicated readers.

“With our current subscription box we are focusing on creating an online community that couldn’t exist before,” says Read Dog’s Michael Wray. “However, our long-term vision is to create subscription boxes for bookstores around the nation so that they are able to generate recurring revenue, increase attendance at community events, and market via subscription boxes.” Whether the reader goes to the bookstore or the bookstore comes to the reader, subscription services can offer new ways of thinking about engagement and nontraditional commerce. And whoever that reader is, there’s almost certainly a subscription out there tailored to their interests. Time to get unwrapping.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 11/6-11/10

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Netflix announced it will publish a comic book titled The Magic Order.

Macmillan shuttered their free ebook distribution service, Pronoun.

The Google Play store will now allow some indie authors to sell on their platform. 

Barnes & Noble rolled out a new holiday retail strategy including two new apps. 

Hachette Book Group has acquired Meadowbrook Press’ backlist titles. 

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 10/30-11/3

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Cynthia Nixon will headline the 2017 National Book Awards.

The Kirkus Prize winners were announced yesterday.

Book World is shutting down all of its 45 stores.

Audible has launched a digital romance package.

Springer Nature has confirmed that it restricts access to its articles in China.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 10/23-10/27

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Kindle, Apple, and Kobo issued ebook credits this week after another ebook antitrust settlement.

Lion Forge acquired The Beat, a comics trade news site. 

William Morris Endeavor announced it no longer represent Bill O’Reilly in the wake of his ongoing sexual misconduct scandals.

Colin Kaepernick reportedly landed a book deal with One World

Amazon is launching a new service that allows packages/service personnel into your home.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 10/16-10/20

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

NetGalley debuted its new site, BookishFirst

Rodale has been purchased by Hearst.

Literary magazine A Public Space has launched a book imprint.

The California autograph authentication law will exempt bookstores

George Saunders is the second American to win the Man Booker Prize.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 10/9-10/13

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Hachette has shut down Weinstein Books in the wake of the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.

Writers Jesmyn Ward and Viet Thanh Nguyen were among this year’s MacArthur Fellowship winners

Ticket sales at this year’s New York ComicCon hit a record high

This year’s Frankfurt Book Fair had an undeniably political undertone

New York TimesJen Senior will be stepping back from her role as book critic

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 10/2-10/6

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Kazuo Ishiguro.

The National Book Foundation released its list of award finalists.

Sasquatch Books was bought by Penguin Random House.

The publishing industry is pitching in to help Puerto Rico

Poet and editor Jill Bialosky faces allegations of plagiarism in her latest book.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 9/25-9/29

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

The year’s most-banned books deal mostly with sexual topics and gender.

The National Book Awards 5 Under 35 nominees were announced this week

Online writing community and publisher Inkitt raised almost $4 million in funding for their site.

Debut novelist Whitney Scharer fetched a 7 figure book deal after an intense bidding war. 

Amazon is still rolling out more physical bookstores.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 9/18-9/22

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Annie Proulx will receive this year’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

What Happened moved 300,000 copies in its first week on sale (and spurred controversy on Amazon).

Rolling Stone is going up for sale.

Google has integrated local library collections in its search feature.

Audible opened a Canadian e-store.