Launched a month ago in Exeter, N.H. by Jeremy Townsend, Books for Animal Lovers is an online retailer offering just what its name specifies—books about animals. Townsend, a former associate editor at W. W. Norton and former small press publisher, converted the business from a direct mail house to an e-tailer offering physical books—no e-books—as well as nonbook gift items.
Currently, Books for Animal Lovers offers about 100 titles for sale and is looking to add more. Townsend keeps overhead low. It’s a one-person operation; she shares storage space at Exeter Packaging where she stores her inventory and which also handles packing and shipping for a small fee per package. The site offers photography books as well as some fiction but right now, she said, nonfiction is BFAL’s biggest category. Prices range from about $13 for a trade paperback to $25 for a hardcover book and categories include books on dogs, cats, horses and children’s books about animals. The site also offers a selection of gift items—from illustrated animal gift cards to a selection of specially designed cat and dog water and food bowls
BFAL is small business looking to grow but Townsend plans to take it slow and build the business carefully. “I’m in a small town, so I’m staying small,” she said while describing the ways local Exeter businesses work to support each other. Townsend said she works closely with Water Street Bookstore, the local indie bookstore in Exeter, as well as the local Barnes & Noble. “I work with Water Street and B&N,” she said, “not to take away business but to support them and they do likewise. We try to build audiences and not just compete.”
Townsend was in New York last week to meet with publishers to add more inventory. She buys direct from publishers. “I buy nonreturnable and get nearly a 50% discount and a lot of publishers also pay shipping,” she said.
Townsend left Norton in 1986 and launched JNTownsend Publishing (which also specialized in animal books) and later in 2003, Publishing Works, a subsidy publishing house that evolved into a conventional publisher before shutting down several years ago. One of the animal-focused books she originally published, Separate Lifetimes, was written by another animal lover, Irving Townsend, her father. So far, it’s her best selling title, “but its still kind of early,” she said, “I expect horse books will do well.”
Townsend has a Facebook page and Twitter account (@Bksforpetlovers) and promotes the site in the Exeter area by visiting cat, dog, horse and crafts show. She plans to start a blog for the site as well as an e-mail newsletter and is also considering adding self-published titles to her inventory. “This is better than a bricks-and-mortar store. I love books and I’m still building the site and talking with publishers,” she said.