With a 22% spike in total company revenues in 2013, Chicago-based Sourcebooks continues to build momentum in the marketplace, especially in its calendar and children’s book lines: sales for both were more than 60% above the previous year’s sales.
While picture books released under the Jabberwocky imprint, like the 97 regional editions of the Santa Is Coming series (which sold a total of 350,000 copies), The Snatchabook, I Love You So, and I Love You More, lifted company revenues, Sourcebooks’ one-year-old digital platform has also had a significant impact upon the company’s success, according to Sourcebooks publisher Dominique Raccah: “Put Me in the Story is part of that story.”
Put Me in the Story, which launched in November 2012, allows parents to personalize picture books for their children. While POD print books are available, the app for all Apple mobile devices creates even more fluid interactivity; background animation, music, and sound effects enhance the child’s name and photographed image. Parents can now insert their voices into the narrative on the app, and there is also a read-aloud function.
To date, the bestselling release in the Put Me in the Story line, which company executives declined to identify, has sold 40,000 copies in both app and print formats. With January revenues for Put Me in the Story titles 100% above projections, and February on track to do the same, Sourcebooks anticipates that Put Me in the Story will continue to help lift company revenues, especially as new partners continue to be added to the mix.
Since launching with three Sourcebooks titles, Put Me in the Story has expanded to 35 titles and partnered with popular brands and licenses, adding Sesame Workshop/Elmo, the Berenstain Bears, Anne Geddes, Nancy Tillman’s On the Night You Were Born, Hello Kitty, and, most recently, Peanuts, to the list. The first of eight original Hello Kitty Put Me in the Story titles will release in July; two Peanuts releases are scheduled for September. The Peanuts partnership with Sourcebooks includes both repackaging classic stories and creating original ones about Charlie Brown and his friends.
At least one new title is going to be added to the Put Me in the Story list each week, selected, designed, and marketed by about a dozen Sourcebooks personnel under the direction of Raccah, business manager Lyron Bennett, and online marketing director Mike Zuccato. Sourcebooks also intends to add more partners to Put Me in the Story, according to Bennett, with plans to expand beyond children’s books to gift books.
“It works great for kids,” Bennett noted, “but it’s also incredible for baby gifts. We’re creating personalized books for every occasion.” This spring, Sourcebooks will roll out an Anne Geddes personalized photo book line targeting the baby gift market. It is already conducting a beta test on the Put Me in the Story website, offering five personalized photo books for adults inspired by Greg Lang’s photo books, which are published by Sourcebooks’ Cumberland House imprint. Customers can personalize the photo books with up to 15 photos and up to 25 messages.
“It’s all about delighting the people we’re ultimately serving,” Bennett said of his five-member team, which, with Raccah, makes the decisions regarding content.. “Our core mission is to create a personal connection between you and the books you love.” On the Night You Were Born was one of the first picture books that Bennett and his team wanted to acquire, he said, because it was “easy for us to figure out how the personalization would work.”
While Sourcebooks executives emphasize that Put Me in the Story provides the “best content,” Raccah says that the line’s “complete ecosystem” is key to its success. “It’s not just the website, it’s also the app,” she says. “We made a big discovery last year. Parents use the books in different ways at different times. They want a [print] book at bedtime and the app in the car.”
While the customized POD print books already create additional value for the participating publishers and authors, she added, traditional print format books potentially are part of the equation. While conceding that it’s too early to make a definitive claim, Sourcebooks executives speculate that some Put Me in the Story titles may drive sales of traditional books.
It’s not just the content lifting sales, company executives insist: much of Put Me in the Story’s success also hinges on marketing. “It’s how well we are engaging with the customer,” Zuccato, says, noting that there were more than 250,000 “significant interactions” with customers last year. More than 300,000 unique visitors either visited or downloaded the app in the fourth quarter. What accounts for the heavy traffic—exceeding the company’s goals by 67%—Zuccato says, is that the website and the app are updated on a daily basis. Zuccato, who leads a six-person marketing team, claims that the online focus is on quantity as well as quality.
Regular monitoring of the website has even had an impact on content development. “People were searching for baby items,” Bennett said, “That’s how we knew to get a great baby line and pushed for Anne Geddes as soon as possible.” Bennett’s team now is in the process of developing more content relating to grandmothers because, he says, “There are more searches for grandmothers today than there were four or five months ago.”
“Put Me in the Story is a platform that works for any bestselling publisher or author,” Raccah said. “We’re going beyond what people had imagined was possible. By mid-year, we’ll be the biggest personalized book company in the world.”