What's in a box?

The future is here and it’s not exactly what we expected, but it’s pretty darn neat. Because whatever your fancy—artisanal popcorn, underwear, or YA books—you can have a curated package of mystery goodies delivered to your door every month. They’re called subscription boxes and they’re spectacular.

Like the modern evolution of mystery grab bags or jelly-of-the-month clubs, subscribing to a box is like sending yourself a (sort of) surprise gift every month. They’re so popular these days that you can find celebrity-curated boxes and there are even things called “unboxing” videos that are quite the rage. The trend seems to have started with beauty boxes filled with samples, though "time of the month" boxes filled with tampons and chocolate were also popping up a couple of years ago.

Today, most of the existing subscription boxes available to Canadians tend towards food and lifestyle, but there are a fair number of bookish boxes out there, too. Homegrown services of note include Ontario’s ComicBoxer and BC’s OwlCrate, which specializes in YA (both ship internationally).

The effects of this relatively new phenomena on the Canadian book supply chain have yet to be seen, but it’s certainly interesting from a distribution standpoint. Whereas consumers have previously held all the responsibility of going out (in-person, online, or otherwise) and choosing books for themselves, the subscription box model takes the choosing into the supplier’s hands. An interesting question to pose might be: if thousands of subscribers receive a book in a given month’s box, would that book qualify as a bestseller?

Either way, it’s undeniable that subscription boxes offer a valuable opportunity for publishers to get new or soon-to-be-released books into the hands of enthusiastic readers, which is especially helpful for new authors without followings. It will be especially interesting to see if any future subscription boxes venture into currently unexplored niches. Right now, the popular specialties seem to be comics and YA. Could literary, culinary, or mystery subscription boxes be next?