Literary merchandise maker Out of Print is now a part of the Penguin Random House empire
Going Out Of Print has never been more in vogue.
Earlier this month, book publishing giant Penguin Random House (PRH) acquired Out of Print, a New York-based retailer that makes literary themed merchandise like t-shirts and mugs. Founded just seven years ago by two childhood friends, Out of Print has become popular with more than just the most obsessive bookworms: “Veronica Mars” actress Kristin Bell is an avowed fan, while the likes of Emma Watson and James Franco have been spotted in their garb.
Out of Print’s pitch is simple: reading can be a social experience and those who don their gear are likelier to get approached by other book nerds. That’s especially true since physical book covers are harder to spot— eBooks hidden in gadgets made up 17.6% of total book sales in the first nine months of 2016 according to the Association of American Publishers. “If you love a book, you’ll have a real connection with someone else who does too,” Todd Lawton, Out of Print’s co-founder tells Moneyish. “There’ll be someone on the street smiling at you, or approaching you to have a conversation. It’s what our customers have really enjoyed.”
Even as traditional retailers falter in the face of the digital economy, savvy indie bookstores have long understood that there’s a significant group willing to shell out for an upscale analogue experience. Indeed Out of Print goods, which include $12 “Alice in Wonderful”-branded mugs and $28 “Hamlet” tees, are stocked at around 1,000 retailers globally—including many of these boutiques. “When we started, the idea of book merchandise was very foreign, but there’s nostalgia for print and we’ve benefited,” Lawton says.
Now, PRH wants a part of this freshly inked market. However, Lawton says that it was Out of Print that approached the publishing giant though the decision to sell came about almost organically. Together with co-founder Jeffrey LeBlanc, he’d been working with PRH since his company’s inception in order to attain image rights permissions. (Per Fortune, Out of Print had sales of around $5 million in 2014. PRH won’t release updated numbers but Lawton says they’re now north of that.)
Out of Print began when LeBlanc and Lawton put up several hundred thousand dollars to self-fund it. Now run as a subsidiary of the world’s largest book publisher, they’ll be using PRH’s reach to expand distribution even further. Its catalogue currently consists primarily of classic books—items based off dystopian novels like “1984” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” are bestsellers—and Lawton is hoping to acquire rights to more contemporary fiction. “Our mission is to honor books, authors and the lifestyle of reading and that’s what we’re going to continue to do,” he says.
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