While Wal-Mart and Amazon continue to duel over who has the lowest book prices, Roxanne Coady, owner of RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, Ct., is taking a different approach to bookselling by repositioning books as gifts. This week marks the soft launch of an expanded online version of the store’s Just the Right Book! gift book program (www.JusttheRightBook.com), which allows customers to go online to purchase a year’s worth of books for children or adults from JusttheRightBook.com and have them shipped monthly, bimonthly, or quarterly.

“This is a way to leverage what RJ Julia does, give it better scale, and allow it not just to survive but thrive,” said Coady, who views this as one way to grow an independent bookstore organically. Part of what distinguishes JusttheRightBook.com, she noted, is that it was designed to replicate the in-store experience of being waited on by a knowledgeable bookseller. Gift buyers fill out a profile that helps RJ Julia’s staff choose books that they will enjoy. The recipient can go online and change their profile. They can also let JusttheRightBook.com know if they’ve read a review or heard about a book that they’d like to substitute.

Coady explained that she came up with the idea of expanding the store’s customer base through an online gift book program when she took a sabbatical two years ago. As she saw it then, her options were: to add a second location, go online with a book-buying driven Web site, or close. One of the appeals of JusttheRightBook.com for her is that it enables the staff to do what they’ve always done in terms of providing personal service. Even with the cost of marketing consultants, building a Web site, developing program-specific software, and publicity, she said that rolling out JusttheRightBook.com is cheaper than opening a new store.

Under RJ Julia’s current gift book program, the store mails out about 300 books a month. To spread the word, Coady is contacting the store’s e-mail list and encouraging customers to forward her note about JusttheRightBook.com to friends around the country. In addition, she rented lists for a 55,000-piece mailing that will go out to some RJ Julia customers as well as other book buyers in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

As for the staff, said Coady, “they’re pumped.” Not only are they hopeful about RJ Julia’s long-term survival, but should the site become profitable, they will be paid better for doing what they’ve always done--getting the right book into a customer’s hand.