The fifth ABC Children's Institute in Portland, Ore., marked another year of growth for the gathering, with more than 240 attendees from more than 160 bookstores of all kinds across the country. Almost 60% of attendees--more than 140--were at their first Children's Institute. The lively event, taking place over three days, featured a range of inspiring speakers, panel discussions, rep-pick sessions, a first-ever trivia party and a welcoming party at the legendary Powell's City of Books. Keynote speakers included author and illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky; Ilsa Govan, co-founder of Cultures Connecting; and author Jason Reynolds (see our coverage of his talk here).
Speaking to attendees, ABA CEO Oren Teicher noted the importance of children's booksellers, saying, "You and your colleagues are shaping the future of our industry. From the board books that welcome babies to the joys of reading with loved ones, to the picture books that illustrate their worlds, to the young adult novels that let teens discover their special place in the multifaceted community of the book, it is you and your colleagues who instill, encourage, and develop a lifelong love of books and ideas that fuels the unique and irreplaceable connection between authors and readers."
He noted, too, the theme of diversity, a major topic of the event, saying, "Once again, you have taken a leadership role, this time on the critically important issue of diversity. As our industry--and our country--work to ensure the voices of all people are heard, the independent children’s booksellers have spoken up, taken action, and are making a critical difference."
On the last day of Children's Institute, booksellers Sarah Taylor of the Bookworm of Edwards in Edward, Colo., Kate Laubernds of Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., and Amanda Zirn of Bethany Beach Books in Bethany Beach, Del., offered advice on running book subscription services. While subscription services can provide a reliable monthly income especially valuable for stores in areas with populations that fluctuate from season to season, the logistics involved are considerable and require planning well in advance.
At the Bookworm of Edwards, there are three monthly subscription programs. The first, called Give Fifteen, started five years ago and was designed as a gift subscription for kids and young adult readers. Subscribers receive one hand-picked book per month, except during December when they receive two and during their birthday month, when they receive three books. Three years later, the Bookworm started an adult program called Trust Me You'll Love It, and most recently launched the Adopt a Reader subscription service, through which customers can give books each month to children from low-income families. Taylor oversees the two children's programs. Between the two, there are more than 100 total subscribers, and every month Taylor selects books for each kid. She orders the books, wraps them, includes a handwritten note, either from herself or from the subscription givers, and ships them out. Taylor said she uses stripe.com to handle monthly payments and ships the books through USPS (the Adopt a Reader books are not shipped but usually distributed through a variety of community organizations). Prices can vary, but there are $15, $25 and $35 options, while the Adopt a Reader program is kept at less than $20 per month. Taylor added that she is "always thinking of books," but putting the boxes together each month is a week-long process from start to finish.
Although Powell's has had an adult book subscription service called Indiespensible for years, the store launched its first kids subscription program, BOOX, this March. Every eight weeks, BOOX subscribers receive a hardcover picture book released within the last three months, a second book that is a hardcover remainder copy, and a non-book gift that can range from stickers to buttons to a small toy. Each BOOX box is centered on a theme: volume 1 featured Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima as the new hardcover title and Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination by Emily Winfield Martin as the remainder title. Laubernds explained that she and her colleagues decided to go with one new book and one remainder title in order to lower the cost of the overall box without sacrificing quality. She added that using remainder titles necessitates working far in advance and is part of the reason why the box comes out every eight weeks rather than every month; for each box she and her team are working "several months ahead." Subscribers don't know what they're getting, aside from the main featured title, until they receive the box.
Zirn launched her store's Book Drop service in February 2015. During the winter months, things are extremely slow at Bethany Beach Books, and Zirn thought a subscription service would be a great way both to reconnect with summer customers during the "off-season" and create some guaranteed income for the store. Initially, the service entailed sending a box with a book and a handwritten note. However, Zirn had to drop most of the personalized touches after Book Drop was featured on a Buzzfeed list of "Geeky subscription boxes you need right now" and saw a massive boost in popularity. Now, the service hovers at around 700 subscribers per month, with four subscription options: one for children ages 8-12, one for young adults, and two options for adults. Initially there had been even more options, including ones devoted to specific genres, but that became overwhelming with the increase in subscribers. Customers can subscribe month-to-month, for three months at a time, or for six months; payments renew automatically and Zirn also uses Stripe.com to handle payments. She has the books planned about four or five months in advance and keeps the titles secret, although the Book Drop website does provide hints about the next book. Packing and shipping the subscription boxes each month, she reported, takes a solid two or three days of work, and Zirn handles the packing in a separate location from the bookstore. She advised: "If you are going to start [a subscription service], keep it as simple as possible and then grow with it." --Alex Mutter