“You have to keep changing and thinking out of the box,” says Barefoot Books cofounder and CEO Nancy Traversy. In keeping with that philosophy, Barefoot is casting off the traditional publishing model and the way most publishers service trade accounts. In 2006, it stopped shipping to Borders and Barnes & Noble. Last spring it stopped supplying Amazon directly. And at the end of last month it terminated its relationships with its book reps, many of whom have represented the Cambridge, Mass.-based publisher for the past 15 years. Instead, indie booksellers will join their chain counterparts in ordering from wholesalers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor. But that’s only one piece in Barefoot’s transformation into a lifestyle company. As part of the transition, it has just purchased the assets of the Boston-based e-subscription service for parents, BabbaCo.
Books will remain an integral part of Barefoot, Traversy stresses. The press will continue to publish multicultural titles with a global reach that emphasize its core values – imagine, explore, create, connect, and give back. The main difference is that the press will no longer have traditional lists built around the spring and fall seasons. “We’re trying to move away from looking at our publishing program as frontlist and backlist. We’ll be releasing our books more from a consumer standpoint,” she says. As an example, Traversy says that an Earth Day title that would in the past have been published on the spring list close to the April holiday, will simply be available to parents and teachers to coincide with Earth Day. At the same time, Barefoot is in the midst of reviewing its digital strategy. Although its Barefoot World Atlas app has had more than four million downloads, it hasn’t provided a substantial revenue stream.
Traversy would still like to maintain Barefoot’s visibility in bookstores. But at a time when the number of bookstores is dwindling, she sees greater growth potential in reaching out to “mums” directly either by offering them the opportunity to become a Barefoot Ambassador, or reseller, or by buying books from an Ambassador, who might be another parent with a child in the same school. The idea of offering an entrepreneurial experience to other mothers is important to Traversy, who began Barefoot with editor-in-chief Tessa Strickland, when her eldest child was three weeks old. Between them, they have seven children. The press will also maintain strategic partnerships with literacy organizations and businesses like First Book and Citrus Lane.
Earlier this week, Barefoot’s founders invited another entrepreneurial mum to come on board, BabbaCo founder and CEO Jessica Kim, who has two children. “I’m not interested in the BabbaCo brand. I’m interested in the community,” says Traversy, who describes herself as having had “one foot on the dock and one foot on the boat in traditional marketing” for too long. Under the deal, BabbaCo has shut down and Kim has been named president of Barefoot Living. She will be responsible for growing the Ambassador program and overseeing Barefoot’s U.S. and U.K. flagship Studios, or retail outlets, in Concord, Mass., and Oxford, England. Former BabbaCo v-p of product development, Stefanie Grossman, has also joined Barefoot, as director of program development.
Barefoot is counting on the new talent and tighter focus to help the press answer what Traversy sees as a key challenge, “How do you create memorable experiences for your kids? We’re trying to do it through stories, not screens.”