By Dennis Abrams
The usual model for a personalized book for young readers goes something like this: A simple text, written specifically for the purpose of being personalized and targeted at 2-8 year-olds (and their doting parents). But what if a company was able to take a well-written book that had already been published to strong reviews and then sell it as a personalized edition?
To Mark Sarpa, CEO of Frecklebox, “your home for personalized books and gifts for children,” it seemed a natural progression. “We’ve always written them ourselves –- I’ve written three or four books myself, and I’m done. I haven’t been inspired. So instead we got inspired to reach out.”
The book he discovered was Susanna Leonard Hill’s Not Yet, Rose, the story of a little hamster girl nervously awaiting the birth of her new little brother or sister. Sarpa contacted the author to ask “Would you let me consider doing a personalized version?” before contacting the publisher, Minnesota-based Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. After the obvious issues were resolved — How would it work? Would it be royalty-based? — a deal was made. Not Yet, Rose, with a list price of $16.50 would be sold by Frecklebox as a personalized Not Yet [fill in the blank] for $19.95 in paperback; $34.95 in hardcover. Eerdman, since it would be supplying an already completed story, would receive 10% of sales. The response has been good and Eerdman, Hill, and Frecklebox all seem to be happy with the arrangement.
It is the direction in which Sarpa sees Frecklebox, and the whole idea of image personalization, moving. “There’s so much wonderful content out there, some out of print, some from when I was a child. If I could talk to publishers to partner with them and get those books that are currently unavailable back into the hands of kids in personalized versions . . . If two publishers could just give me 10% of their content we’d be buried for months.”
Frecklebox is working on developing an iPad app, which, with considerably lower costs, would allow the company to offer more to the books’ original publishers. Sharpa insists, though, that the original publishers should not see personalized editions as competition. “We don’t think it’s competing with traditional publishers, we’re not competing against Barnes & Noble. Our personalized editions cost twenty dollars and up -– it’s a special purchase.”
Sharpa anticipates that it will be several more years before the marketplace will be fully educated as to the possibilities for traditional and personalized publishing happily working side by side. But it is going to happen, he insists, because there is a demand from young readers to be able to read about themselves: “We’re all egomaniacs, and we all like to see our names in print.”