According to Royal Mail, the subscription box industry is set to be worth over £1 billion by 2022, a figure that is concretely reflected in the exponential expansion of Rare Birds Book Club. Since its emergence onto the scene in 2017, the subscription service and digital book club has seen growth of 86% and 57% YoY respectively, with 84% of subscribers signing up for six-month memberships and a quarter for 12 months or more. Projections for 2020 were bright.
However, with the drastic and sudden effects COVID-19 has had on businesses across the globe, Rachel Wood, founder and resident bookworm at Rare Birds Book Club, decided it was now or never to ensure the survival of what may already seem a ‘pandemic proof’ industry. “When Coronavirus started making headlines in Europe we sat and made a contingency plan, working through what would happen if our office was to close suddenly – we checked inventory and ordered what we’d need to see us through a couple of months, so by the time the lockdown happened we were ready. We had divided up the things we’d need to work from home and made sure we had our materials like stickers, envelopes, additional postcards and books ready to go.”
A simple, yet personal subscription, Rare Birds Book Club offers members the chance to pick between two surprise books each month (or upgrade to both) before joining like-minded subscribers in the digital book club to discuss this month’s read. Its ethos being rooted in a service that was both letter-box friendly and heavily digital has been key in driving the sales spike that has kept the business operational when so many others have temporarily or indefinitely closed-down.
At the beginning of the year, the club was just about to hit 1,000 subscribers per month, an almost 50/50 split of those buying for themselves (51%) and those buying as gifts (49%). However, subscription numbers have grown by 35% since lockdown and RBBC now sees an average of up to 15 orders per day – 10 more than a few weeks ago – which has witnessed them soar past the 1,000 subscriber mark. While the emphasis on sales is still leaning towards gift purchasing with hundreds of orders including messages of consolation, comfort and togetherness, the pay-as-you go option has also taken off, with people looking to enjoy the service without having to commit longer-term; a bonus in these times of uncertainty.
With over 1,200 books to send out each month, 10% of which are international, massive changes have had to be made to ensure members still receive on time. In the short-term, mail outs are now being done from Wood’s spare room instead of her headquarters.“My spare room is basically now a small warehouse, but it means we’ve been able to stay fully operational during lockdown. Once books are picked, packed and ready to go, they are collected by Royal Mail in a seamless operation that is completely contactless. My staff and I are all isolated in our own homes and have different responsibilities to keep us ticking over – I do the big send outs and individual orders are done elsewhere.”
With a routine firmly a thing of the past, Wood works in the evening to manage social media, connect with the community and chat in the membership hub, whereas her assistant works the normal 9-5 to allow for customer service queries and postal timings. The team does however start each day with a call to catch up on business and life, “because working alone is kind of lonely”.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Wood also launched a podcast a few weeks ago, which sees her and two friends waxing lyrical about all things books. “The first few episodes were pre-recorded and ready to go, so we were able to launch quickly. Now in lockdown we record remotely; each of us with the same microphone we’d use together. We host the discussion through a video chat on my computer so it’s all online, and it’s recorded by connecting the computer up with our soundboard to keep the quality high. Then we edit and release as normal.”
With COVID-19 still keeping us in our homes and with reports of mental health issues on the rise, it seems reading and podcast listening will only increase to help combat loneliness, anxiety and the unease Coronavirus has brought. For Rare Birds Book Club that suggests 2020 is set to be a year of even bigger growth