Photo by Maria DeForrest
Bethany Beach Books has grown from a local shop in Delaware to a worldwide subscription service with The Book Drop.
No matter what kind of bookworm you are, Bethany Beach Books’ The Book Drop creates a personalized experience based on your favorite genres.
The shop on Garfield Parkway has remained a perennial favorite among beachgoers for 30-plus years. Since seasonal customers often ask the booksellers what they’re reading at the moment, the store created The Book Drop to offer great book suggestions even during the offseason.
Amanda Zirn, The Drop’s curator and creator, has been working for the bookstore since she was a teenager.
“We thought it would be nice if [our summer readers] could still read what we’re reading and if we could be able to suggest things all year round even though [our summer readers] can’t be in Bethany. That’s where the idea really took off,” Zirn says. “We quickly realized that it wasn’t just our summer readers who were interested—it was actually people who hadn’t even been to Bethany, which was a really cool realization and quickly allowed us to grow a lot larger than we thought we would.”
After starting the subscription service in February 2015, the local bookstore expanded into a worldwide book delivery service when it was featured on a notable website.
“A few weeks after we sent out our first boxes, we were randomly featured on Buzzfeed. All of the sudden we got all of these subscriptions and people asking us if we ship worldwide and we had no idea why. We were just a small bookstore at the beach in the second-smallest state in the country,” Zirn says. “Then someone said they saw us on Buzzfeed. We were listed as the ‘Top 20 Geeky Subscription Boxes You Need Right Now,’ and apparently that resonated with a lot of people. Overnight, our subscriptions just absolutely skyrocketed and since then we tried to continue that growth more organically.”
Most of our readers now are from everywhere else but Delaware. We really went into this thinking we would have a lot of readers from Bethany, but that’s not the case. We ship to every state, and as far away as Japan, Guam and Europe. It’s really crazy, and we like to spread the word that we are a business from Delaware to kind of help put our state on the map.
The Book Drop is bringing the appeal of the local, independent bookstore back again. Since the rise in popularity of electronic readers and what the team at Bethany Beach Books likes to call “the site that shall not be named,” some in the bookstore industry have seen a decline in sales. Zirn, though, believes these modern changes have a positive impact on the business.
“I think the e-readers allowed people who may not have been readers already to be introduced to reading or brought them back to reading again,” Zirn says. “Without Instagram, the internet or social media, The Book Drop definitely wouldn’t be what it is today. So many people discover us through Instagram specifically and without it, we probably would be a tiny little subscription service, or more of a local thing. As a whole, it has taken our industry to another level, despite it being scary and intimidating in the beginning where we thought we would be replaced by electronic readers.”
Zirn curates each subscription box herself with the help of a small team of booksellers. The crew works to make each box exciting for subscribers. Even for experienced readers, Zirn makes sure to choose novels that may be under the radar by new, upcoming authors to offer a diverse and exciting selection in each box.
Zirn continues to curate books for Bethany Beach Books, and while she is searching for the next titles to display in the store, she is also keeping an eye out for books that might be perfect for subscription boxes.
“I will go through and start reading the books I’m contemplating for The Book Drop. If I can’t stop reading, then I know it’s one I want to send,” Zirn says.
The staff at The Book Drop packs every single subscription box and wraps each book by hand, ensuring that every book is in perfect condition. The typical subscriber receives one book per month, based on which genre they enjoy. Recently, The Book Drop has added special items in the box besides just the books, such as three to five gifts from small businesses.
In the early days of The Book Drop, the subscription boxes were named after popular classic authors, from Jane Austen to Ernest Hemingway. The team quickly realized it gave the wrong impression to customers by generalizing the books and attaching them to other authors. When thinking of new, creative names for their subscription boxes, the crew came up with the perfect pairing: what you might drink while reading specific genres.
“We thought we would really be cozying up, drinking a cup of tea or a lot of the characters in the book would be drinking tea for the historical fiction genre,” Zirn says. “And then we thought for our mystery and thriller novels, you would either need a cup of coffee to stay up all night because you would be on the edge of your seat, or you would need a cup of coffee in the morning because you didn’t get enough sleep.”
The romance subscription box name, “Books for Bubbly,” was a suggestion from a customer who thought readers would really enjoy a glass of bubbly—or sitting in a bubble bath—while reading those novels.
The most recent, “Books for Elixir,” came from a book publisher and huge fantasy novel fan who helps pack The Book Drop’s boxes. This particular subscription box has been one of their fastest-growing due to the popularity of the genre.
“Most of our readers now are from everywhere else but Delaware,” Zirn says. “We really went into this thinking we would have a lot of readers from Bethany, but that’s not the case. We ship to every state, and as far away as Japan, Guam and Europe. It’s really crazy, and we like to spread the word that we are a business from Delaware to kind of help put our state on the map.”