Talk is that the traditional publishing industry have been in crisis for years, but people are buying and reading more books than ever. According to figures from the Association of American Publishers, the US publishing industry generated almost $28 billion in net revenue in 2015, an increase of 4.6 percent from 2013. While ebook sales accounted for almost $3.4 billion, the old paperback still remains the most popular format – the problem for independent bookstores is that these sales are going online.
Sydney startup Bookabuy, founded by husband and wife pair Mel and Chris Tantchev, wants to bring a bit of magic back to the online book purchase with its subscription service, which allows customers to buy personalised monthly book subscriptions for themselves or as a gift.
The platform works by asking customers to choose a book subscription category, or genre, the subscription period, and then give some information about the reader to help pick out a personalised book, with all books chosen new, popular titles.
“The idea for Bookabuy came about when I wanted to gift a book subscription to Mel for our first wedding anniversary – a paper gift – but no such service existed in Australia. With my background in advertising and web design, and Mel’s passion for reading, our skill sets naturally complimented the idea,” Tantchev said.
Launched in July, the startup doesn’t keep an inventory of books but rather sources books each time a new order is received, to make sure each package is truly personalised.
“This does take more time, but it also helps us to ensure that our subscriptions are truly tailored to each reader. Once we’ve gone through the process of handpicking the right books, the monthly routine of getting them to our readers is fairly straightforward. Each book is gift wrapped and shipped with a personalised message unique to the reader,” Tantchev said.
With competition in the publishing industry so fierce, Tantchev said the pair’s primary aim is to build a solid foundation in the Australian market.
“We did a lot of comparative analysis, looking at anything from local book stores, to large retailers and other international subscription models. We believe that the pricing across all Bookabuy subscriptions represents great value and we hope that as the business grows, we can make even greater cost efficiencies which we can pass on to our customers,” Tantchev said.
Prices vary according to genre. A three month young adult subscription costs $30 a month, $28/month for a six month subscription, and $26/month for a year-long subscription, while a historical fiction subscription costs $35/month for three months, $33/month for six months, and $31/month for 12 months. A one-off mystery book costs $25, including shipping.
While the book curation – which is done by Mel – is obviously the core aspect of the product, Tantchev, who handles including user experience, design, said the couple spent “countless hours” crafting the customer’s online experience, which is quite pleasant and easy.
“Seamlessly progressing through the stages of purchase was vital, and that is why our design is simplistic, yet engaging. Technology was also a big component of getting the experience right; we opted for lightweight technical frameworks, and e-commerce plugins to help us achieve our vision,” he said.
The personalised book subscription model is one that has worked overseas, with services such as Just the Right Book going strong. While readers may have flocked to Amazon and The Book Depository for ebooks and cheap paperbacks, you would be hard pressed to find a keen reader who doesn’t still love spending time browsing at the bookstore, flicking through the new releases – there’s a bit of romance about it, and the idea of receiving a mystery package through Bookabuy taps into that feeling too. Books are a tough, competitive market, but if the startup is able to target dedicated readers, it should do well; after all, most would be happy to spend an average of $30/month on a book.
Now, going into business with your spouse just one year into your marriage isn’t for the faint hearted, and while Tantchev admitted being a couple in business has presented some challenges, the pair have worked well together.
“We have both had to at times make concessions and compromise on key decisions. While we both have a shared vision for the business, we’ve also discovered that there are differences in the way we approach problems. This has made for some hearty debates, but we’ve gotten a real appreciation for the other’s style and it has ultimately made for a better end result,” he said.
The pair both have day jobs, and are working on Bookabuy on the side. Having self funded its development thus far, they hope for it to become a full time gig “in the very near future” and will be focusing on growing in Australia over the next year.
Image: Mel and Chris Tantchev. Credit: Mark Morgan