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Book lovers can't get enough of this Vancouver subscription box

How to build a bookish box.

"One of the things we look for, for the most, is just a unique story," says Korrina Ede, co-founder of OwlCrate.

The Vancouver book subscription service creates a monthly thematic box with a young adult book and matching bookish goodies (they also have OwlCrate Jr. for kiddos aged eight to 12). "Something unique that would help us build a theme that we've not done before."

Ede started OwlCrate in 2015 with her boyfriend Robert. Originally she just wanted to create a small boutique with gifts for bookworms but Robert encouraged her to consider the idea of a subscription box, a novel concept at the time.  "We were like, 'yeah, I think the young adult community would really like this,'" says Ede. "And thankfully, it took off right away. It's just been a crazy ride ever since."

In the last seven years, similar book subscription boxes have popped up all over the place but OwlCrate remains one of the few of its kind in Canada, let alone Vancouver. Ede says this is in part due to the challenges of production in Canada. "I feel like publishers, in general, are really eager for new avenues to sell their books. So that part wasn't difficult. The part that was probably the most challenging when we were starting was the fact that we were in Canada, which caused just some issues with shipping more than anything."

Ede recalls the crazy lengths they had to go to just to put the boxes together. "We would order all of the fun extra goodies and the books for our boxes and ship them to Blaine, Washington, and then we would drive over the border, pick them up, bring them through customs into Canada, pack the boxes in our basement suite, shipped the Canadian ones out from the Vancouver post office, and then drive the U.S. shipments back over the border and ship them out through the Blaine, Washington post office."

It was a lot for the new team to juggle in the beginning but now that they have grown and introduced special edition book releases as well as additional projects alongside the monthly boxes they ship everything in and out of a fulfillment centre in Oregon. Their team and officers are still based in Vancouver though.

Ede and her partner used to work at the Granville Island Toy Company before starting OwlCrate and through working there developed a sense of what kind of gifts were popular and how to source them. Ede was also extremely active in the Etsy community and says for the more unique things like candles and such, "I would look on Etsy for small businesses and just reach out to them and say 'Do you want to create something custom for our box? Do you have the capacity to hand-make this many things?' and it would just kind of go from there."

Now, OwlCrate produces a larger amount of custom items and even manufactures their own products but Ede says that working with small businesses is still something that's really important to them and they try to include one small business in each box. "We still like to source all of the artwork that we use from independent artists and support people that way," she adds.

On the process of building out each box, Ede explains, "we read a lot of early manuscripts for books and once we've picked a book that we think our subscribers will like and that we could build a cool theme around and the publisher says yes, then we kind of just get started on brainstorming."

Previous themes have included "of romance and rivalry," "the chosen ones," and "peek behind the curtain" and some special edition books by authors like Stephanie Garber, Holly Black, and V. E. Schwab with stunning exclusive cover designs by independent artists.

Even though the books largely fall under the young adult genre, there are many subscribers who are older than that demographic and the BookTok community is only reinforcing the idea that YA books aren't really just for teenagers, especially not the fantasy books.

Ede says that they take the readability of a book into account when selecting it. "We want people to be able to open their box and start reading and be instantly hooked."


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