Book Subscription Boxes Offer an Alternative to Browsing Bookstore Shelves this Holiday Season (And Beyond)

The holidays are here. Festive city squares are displaying trees lit with tasteful white lights, and our marching band kiddos have asked us to buy pies or wreathes to support their teams. In past holiday seasons I have loved walking, wrapped in a knitted scarf, from the chilly city street or suburban stripmall sidewalk, past a musician strumming a guitar or beating a drum, and through charming glass or wooden doors into the warm space of a bustling retail bookshop, illuminated by soft yellow lights.

And now? Well, now I rarely go inside any stores, opting for delivery and curbside pickup. I tend to wince, seemingly irrationally, when I accidentally walk the wrong direction down a grocery store aisle per the masking tape arrows. Yesterday, I found myself asking the cashier at the liquor store if they had any hand sanitizer I could use. COVID-19 has got me like that.

I buy my groceries online. Every twelve weeks, twenty-four rolls of toilet paper are delivered to my front doorstep. I no longer need to carry the bulky, soft, plastic-wrapped packages through the checkout lane to my car, or through the hilly neighborhood to my second-story apartment. I like that. I’ve also been receiving a new pair of super cute, super soft underwear sent to me monthly since April.

Subscription boxes—the recurring delivery of goods—are, in my opinion, a vital part of the marketing and distribution of a product or service. And. They. Are. Convenient. And fun.

So why not feed readers’ chronic bibliophilia with book subscription boxes? In general, shopping habits have been changing for years, and COVID-19 has greatly amplified this. The book-shopping experience will need to transition into a new realm where local and indie bookstore owners send their bookish vibes into the hands and homes of their customers. Maybe every other month, or four times a year, a reader’s favorite local bookstore ships them a pile of used books, a new hardcover must-read, books from featured or local authors, some cute bookish socks, and a new notebook or a calendar. Maybe they could throw in an old bookstore–scented candle (Is that a thing? Powell’s has made that a thing.), or a traveling poet’s self-published chapbook. The product combinations, I imagine, are endless.

Delivery subscriptions for things like dinner prep kits, sustainable toilet paper, murder mystery games, and even locally roasted coffee beans have become increasingly popular since at least 2003. Forbes reported that in “April 2017, subscription company websites had about 37 million visitors. Since 2014, that number [had] grown by over 800 percent.” I wonder what the numbers are today, in 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, with kids learning from home, many folks working remotely or unemployed altogether, elders isolated from loved ones, and people simply staying away from other people (in the best of circumstances).

COVID-19 continues to change lifestyles and restrict in-person contact. People may not be able to shop at their favorite bookstores (or any stores) without potentially waiting in a line outside the brick and mortar or needing to proactively set an appointment. A box of books and other goodies being delivered right to readers can bring the bookstore vibes to their homes, and can keep us consuming the titles that flood our wish lists and the titles we had no idea we needed.

Some booksellers have been dabbling in book subscription boxes for a while. For about fifty bucks, every six to eight weeks, Powell’s Books will ship subscribers a new title from an independent publisher. Their Indiespensable subscription club is well-reviewed (and out of stock). I am definitely adding their next installment to my wish list! Also, a charming local bookstore in Delaware is running The Book Drop, a monthly book subscription where adult readers get a wrapped, paperback book to pair with coffee, tea, or bubbly, and kids have options too.

I’m into it.

I am expecting to see more (like all my favorite) independent bookstores offering some form of niche subscription boxes for their book-loving readers. Bookstores, small and large, need to get their inventories online and offer more accessibility—as well as some customizable options—for these subscriptions.