Now We Are TEN!
Ten years ago today, we published our first edition of Shelf Awareness to a group of about 500 readers, mostly family and friends. We had no idea at the time what an incredible journey we were embarking on. We hoped only that our book industry friends would read the newsletter and like it and that someday it might make enough to pay for some wine.
|Shelf Awareness founders John Mutter and Jenn Risko.
As we prepared to launch Shelf Awareness at the 2005 BEA, we talked with many friends in the business about our plans. Everyone was kind and supportive, but, as we came to realize later, many thought we were crazy. A direct quote from one of those early meetings was, "So let me get this straight. You're going to start a daily e-newsletter, like PW, which has been in business for a hundred years? You're going to focus mainly on the indies? And this newsletter is going to be free?"
We barely heard these concerns because we believed in what we were doing and believed we were filling a need. While at Publishers Weekly, in the '90s, John had started one of the first business e-mails at a time when there were no graphics and ads consisted only of text set off by strings of asterisks. The newsletter had an enthusiastic audience and thrived--until the suits at Reed Elsevier, which owned PW at the time, decided to put it behind a pay wall and effectively killed it.
When John was forced into involuntary retirement, immediately booksellers and others called and wrote saying they missed the newsletter. John and Jenn were industry friends, and when Jenn heard the news of his firing, she called. John said he dreamed of setting up a newsletter focused on booksellers and librarians. In an uncharacteristically shy voice, she said, "If you're really serious, I'm really interested."
In retrospect, maybe we were a bit crazy. We had no capital, no loans, no investors and, at the time, the industry was in turmoil. Amazon continued to take greater shares of the printed book market and was about to introduce the Kindle. The economy was overheated and would soon crash. Borders was slowly sinking. And our beloved indies were trying to hang on, but more stores were closing than opening, and many inside and outside the business began seeing bricks-and-mortar bookstores merely as "showrooms."
A decade later, it's amazing how things have changed. The printed book is here to stay. Indies have rebounded. We like to think we contributed to these changes by fulfilling our unofficial motto: providing a virtual community with the news and info that helps booksellers and librarians do their jobs better.
And somehow a decade has passed. Now we have two editions, the daily Pro for the industry and the twice-weekly Readers for consumers, with 34,000 and 350,000 subscribers, respectively. Last year, we sent 28 million individual e-mails. We now have more than 100 partner bookstores, who send co-branded editions of Shelf Awareness for Readers to their customers. (See the list here.) By our conservative estimates, last year we helped those partners sell more than 100,000 books.
We reach all kinds of people who love books: avid book readers, book reviewers, book bloggers, media reporters on the book business and many more in the U.S. and around the world. We've become partners with and a place of connection for publishers and booksellers and librarians. We've created new products to help spread the word about books and to sell books.
And we're amazed at the company we've created. We have 12 full-time employees and 50 freelancers. They range from booksellers and others who review books regularly to staff who have worked their hearts out. In the early days, many of them took chances working for us. Marilyn Dahl, head of book reviews, began by agreeing to review one mystery a month in exchange for free galleys and wine. Our CFO Richard Jobes started giving us invaluable business advice "for fun" and said dryly in May 2005 that "by Labor Day, you should know if this thing has a chance." Melissa Solberg and Kristin McConnell are our brilliant and tenacious sales team, who keep the revenue engine humming and hand hold our approximately 400 publisher advertisers a year. Robin Lenz begins her days before dawn making sure that the reams of copy are readable and pictures presentable and manages our social media. Ever-cheerful Jennifer M. Brown has created a thriving children's department from scratch. Robert Gray started nine years ago writing a weekly column and now is John's main backup and writes much of the news. Alex Mutter reports in-depth on a range of subjects, keeping us informed about conferences, books, authors, booksellers and innovative programs. Christopher Priest heads up our bookstore platform and has begun getting us some terrific media attention. Dave Wheeler keeps the Shelf review world moving. Kristianne Huntsberger ushers review galleys and ads through Shelfland.
And very soon, Neil Strandberg is joining us as director of technology and operations. All we can say about his appointment is this: If you're impressed with how far we've come, watch to see where we're going.
We want to thank so many people. Our employees. Our spouses and families, who put up with our long, erratic hours and trips--and have provided invaluable support. Our first readers, who gave us a shot and then told everyone else they knew to sign up. The first brave souls who bought ads when barely anyone knew who we were, and those who have consistently advertised for years. (One of our favorite e-mails ever from an advertiser said: "Until we can wake up every morning in bed with every single bookseller out there, we have to be in the Shelf.") And all of you who pursued dreams to own or work in a bookstore or a library or a publishing house.
We began as an upstart, as troublemakers of a kind, and we still aim to see things differently, so we especially want to honor the rebels who know that words and knowledge lead to deeds and who believed in books and the book business as we did, despite all the doom and gloom. All of us at the Shelf can't imagine a better group of crazies to be with and always to believe in. We gratefully offer you a million thank yous. Here's to many more years! --John Mutter and Jenn Risko
[Editor's note: You can send us birthday wishes by clicking on the comment button below. Or on social media: Please use our hashtag #Shelf10.]