Books are my alternate realities. They help me to escape reality and get into another world that I love or hate. I don’t read mythical fantasy, and so I don’t have a magical world like Harry Potter to live in, but books allow me to create my world.But it takes an awfully long time for me to choose a book. Either some of my close bookish friends have to give me a recommendation (I blindly read what @Madhubanti suggests – her choices never fail to fascinate me) or I have to read “N” number of reviews for a book to intrigue me. I am currently reading “Tamil – An Autobiography” by David Shulman.When someone chooses a book for you, there is a 70% chance that you will not like it. Ok, I just made up the number, but the point is will you allow someone else to choose a book for you? And that’s what book subscription box services do. Tricky?
Let’s analyse how this subscription business started. Subscription business began when Newspapers and Magazines started publishing at regular intervals. Charles Dickens released his “The Pickwick Papers” in instalments, and that became the first ‘serialised’ fiction. Just give it a thought, you are already in a subscription economy.
- Magazine readers
- Amazon Prime/Netflix
- Kindle Unlimited
and most of these are virtually owned/consumed. In fact, the online subscription services are quite popular in B2B space – the entire cloud computing services run on subscription. But it took time for companies to adopt the subscription business in the consumer market. Can you guess the product that started consumer products subscription boom?
- The product is a staple requirement for half of the population in the world.
- Most replace it every month based on the need – so the demand never stops.
- There are only a few notable companies in the business.
Unable to guess? It was the humble shaving blades. Dollar Shave Club started its subscription business in 2011, and it changed the subscription business so much that they were acquired by Unilever for $1Bn cash in 2016 1
After the success of Dollar Shaving Club, many services started with a similar business model. There is Birchbox that sends you beauty products every month, Pants by Post sends underwears, craft coffee sends different coffee to taste, and my most favourite is Geekologie – it sends retro video games, comic book and TV series merchandise. Most of these companies were started by bloggers or independent business people while big corporations woke up to it little late. P&G has entered the business, but Indian entrepreneurs are still warming up to the business model. For instance, visits to US subscription box services increased by 3000% in 2016, and an average subscriber in the US has 10-12 subscriptions. But India hasn’t caught up with online commerce like their US counterpart 2.
Sugar box sends you beauty products, and with Let’s Shave, you can subscribe to men’s grooming products. Not so surprisingly, a plethora of startups are in the beauty or fashion business – Lady Raga, Yourbox, My Envy Box, etc., Juliet box is the best of the lot that sends sanitary napkins and essentials based on the menstrual cycle of women.
There are only a few companies that are treading into exciting subscription box services – Flintobox (toy subscription box services for children) is one, and Fiction Crate is another.
Why is Fiction Crate interesting?
There are two ways a subscription box can become successful – identify a product that people have to change/regularly lose (Let’s Shave, Getsocks) or identify a product that people like to be surprised/ have a difficult time choosing.
Books are a tougher nut to crack when it is a subscription box service. Each one has different taste and has a plethora of reasons to choose a book (or not). But one thing remains, people hate a book after reading it, and most of them don’t tend to judge a book by the cover.
Fiction Crate’s book subscription box business hinge on this aspect of surprising people based on the genre they choose to read, and also they combine it with a merchandise related to books/reading. There are multiple subscriptions levels that you can choose based on your reading ability. Each of the subscription levels comes with a T-shirt of your size. The classic will cost you Rs.499, Premium will cost you Rs.699 and if you jus like their T-shirts you can buy that too.
What did I love about the first delivery?
Although it took some time due to postal issues (Fiction Crate sent an apology letter in advance), the package was perfectly packed. I was like a child, and I couldn’t wait to open (although I was at work). The biggest doubt I had was about the choice of book. Although I am not a voracious reader, I had doubt that I might receive a book that I have read already. But they chose Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware. It surprised me, and it has a 4-star rating on Amazon.
It was like a box of chocolates, and it’s like finding chocolate that you haven’t tasted yet. The choice of the book also shows that they have put a lot of thought into the selection of book.
Can fiction crate succeed?
The subscription box business model is in the nascent stages in India. Although there are great ideas like Fiction Crate and Flintobox, there are companies that sell mobile cases every month.One of the biggest problems that these companies face is that the RBI doesn’t allow credit/debit card details to be stored and so it’s impossible to get automatic payments from the card.
Few startups have gone into book subscription box services – Story Trunk specialises in Young Adult fiction while Biblio Box’s service is expanding to other genres too. Fiction Crate faces two challenges – getting the traditional book reader on to the book subscription box model and the second is getting non-readers to adopt reading. Most companies approach it as a monthly subscription service rather than surprise box service. Fiction crate can work on the aspect of a surprise because it sticks when it comes to books (or book based merchandises) and it will also push non-readers to buy the book subscription box service.
It’s not going to be easy in this segment, but Fiction Crate has all the ingredients of success, after all, they have started from a city that has a huge reading population in the country.
PS., Loved their personalised card but I hope they can continue it when their subscription base increases.
- Why Unilever really bought Dollar Shave Club? – Bloomberg
- Cover pic courtesy: Fiction Crate – https://fictioncrate.com/#hero