Best known in the book world for pioneering in-store kiosks that allow customers to look up information about titles on its database, Muze has also become instrumental in supplying databases used by online retailers. Because that market is "hitting a ceiling," as Sean Sullivan, director of category management, put it, the company this year has begun a program that goes after a new market: helping highly specialized companies that have or want an online presence to sell books, music and DVDs/videos that relate to their specialties.
Called Store-Plus, the program made its debut in January; its first "category" is body, mind and spirit. Among the hard facts about this blissful category: the company estimates that there are some 43,000 Web sites in this genre, most run by health, wellness, nutrition, New Age stores, yoga studios, fitness centers and the like. The company estimates that 30% of Americans "identify with the body, mind and spirit lifestyle" and that "health and sustainability consumers" buy on average 21 books, 16 CDs and 11 DVDs/videos a year.
Store-Plus, which is expected to expand into other categories in the future, offers a full package for its customers, from title data, articles and samples to order taking and fulfillment, which is handled by Baker & Taylor. The database for the body, mind and spirit category includes about 20,000 items, the majority of which are books. (The Muze Books database has more than 5 million titles on it.)
Customers who use the home pages of Muze's clients and go into the Muze offerings won't notice a change or realize they have left the host store's Web site. "We want the stores to maintain their brand identity," Sullivan told PW. (To add to the sense that the stores are handling the entire transaction, Baker & Taylor, which carries books, music and DVDs/videos, will ship in a generic box, and stores can include a message in the packing slips.)
Muze's client stores can customize the home page offerings, selecting their own products and merchandise or default to Muze's choices. They can block certain items or categories if they rub the wrong way. "We want them to present their products their way rather than pushing off to a big retailer," said Sullivan. "They can do whatever they want to any degree." The stores also have some pricing and shipping-cost flexibility, which allows them to discount in various ways.
Muze's material includes the features familiar to users of its kiosks and online databases: product descriptions, reviews, biographies of authors and performers, album track lists with streaming samples, awards information and a variety of search options.
For the body, mind, spirit category, Store-Plus offers the "bulletin," a review that includes regularly updated news and information about trends written by Muze editors and industry figures (many of whom have their own books and videos). The bulletin is divided into five categories: health and fitness; nutrition; spirituality/self-help; alternative therapy; and New Age. Muze also offers "expert recommendations." Sullivan emphasized, "We want to generate a lot of cross-selling."
The company has about 30 customers, the best known being the New York Sports Club, which includes the Boston, Washington and Philadelphia Sports Clubs and has more than 350,000 members. Many of the other customers are "mom-and-pop stores, some literally run out the house" and for all of them, "the core product is not book, music or video," Sullivan continued. "They are passionate, but most are not Web savvy. They are selling yoga mats or their service. We make it affordable for them to sell books, music and DVDs/videos, too. A corner studio couldn't do this on its own. For one, it would be expensive to set up an account with B&T."
Muze offers several pricing methods: for smaller stores, $75 a month plus a percentage of sales (which should be profitable for the customer after the sale of 15—20 items). Larger accounts pay $1,000 a month. While Sullivan noted that many customers probably "can't generate sales overnight," the service, he said, "will create a new revenue stream for them, and some will make money out of the gate." In addition, he stressed, it will "articulate their brand" and offer new content to their customers.
Muze's biggest challenge setting up Store-Plus was deciding which products fit the category. BISAC subject codes helped with books, but video was difficult and music was especially challenging in the areas of yoga, meditation and spirituality. The process took the company two years to complete. "We had to focus intensely on this market," said Paul Brennan, v-p of content.
Assuming Store-Plus grows up healthy and happy, Muze hopes to expand its Store-Plus to other categories. Among the likely candidates: appropriately, parenting as well as extreme sports.