The rise of book subscription boxes

Graphic by Callie Wohlgemuth ’21

Graphic by Callie Wohlgemuth ’21

BY SIDNEY BOKER ’21

Book subscription boxes are just what they sound like: a recurring (usually monthly) delivery of a themed assortment of products. Box themes range from pet products to style and beauty items, and subscribers can choose how long or how often they receive a regular delivery. The trend and business came about in 2010, according to My Subscription Addiction, a subscription box review blog. As they grew in popularity, themed “book boxes” emerged as a separate category, then diversified further to highlight specific genres, such as mystery/ thriller, children’s literature and travel. Two examples of these genre-focused boxes stand out in particular for their superior quality of monthly new Young Adult (YA) literature and literary goods, like pins, t-shirts and bookmarks.

The subscription box Uppercase was founded by Huffington Post writer Lisa Parkin, who has a book blog called “Read. Breathe. Relax.” In an interview with Popsugar, Parkin explains that she started Uppercase in 2014 “after seeing the popularity of subscription boxes” and realizing that “there was nothing currently on the market for readers [of YA fiction].” Uppercase’s official website details the contents of each box, which are presented as vintage airmail envelope-style pouches: one first-edition, signed hardcover book; one to two high quality bookrelated items; a personalized, handwritten note; and an online forum with exclusive content directly from the authors. As detailed on the website, Parkin “personally reads tons of advanced copies of young adult books every year and selects only the most incredible books” for the boxes, and the Uppercase team “work[s] with talented artists and artisans to create unique and exclusive bookish items to accompany them.”

Another YA subscription box, OwlCrate, was officially launched in 2015 by founders Korrina Ede and Robert Madden. On the OwlCrate website, Ede and Madden detail their journey from a small business run in a “basement suite” that grew so quickly they “had to find a new packing facility.” The website also explains that all OwlCrate boxes are curated around a new theme each month. Each box contains a brand new hardcover YA book, three to five “bookish keepsakes,” exclusive content from publishers and authors and a small magazine detailing the people who contributed to the box. OwlCrate emphasizes that the “bookish” items are all “made from a wide range of small businesses [and] family-run shops from all over North America.” Each box has the OwlCrate logo and owl footprints on it and comes with optional unboxing instructions, encouraging subscribers to participate in the online OwlCrate community.

Julianne Tillis, a book reviewer, compared Uppercase and OwlCrate on her blog, “Among the Authors.” “Overall, OwlCrate is probably the way to go if you’re more about the bookish goodies than the actual book,” she wrote, but said that she “was more drawn into the interactive reading experience with bonus content, and [she] really love[s] that they take the time to include either a signed book or bookplate with each box.”

Book subscription boxes go far beyond the ones compared here, varying in content, prices and genres. Other subscription services include the Book of the Month Club, which is not genre-specific and allows credits to be transferred if customers are uninterested in their selection, and ComicBoxer, a box that includes signed and exclusive comic books. The diversity of these boxes make great gifts for others or for yourself. Margrit Rindlisbacher ’21 said “subscription boxes seem like an excellent way to get a diverse selection of books that introduce us readers to new authors and genres we might not pick up otherwise.”

Though book subscription boxes are filled with fresh new reads and fun items, there are some drawbacks. Tillis feels that the magic of the book can be overshadowed by all the items in the boxes, and it can be difficult to find the right subscription box for different preferences. Additionally, the boxes, especially ones that include so many trinkets, are pricy. LitJoy’s highest priced subscription can reach over $35 including shipping, while Uppercase and OwlCrate’s prices range between $23 and $30. International shipping adds another complication, as not all boxes ship internationally and may require additional fees.

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