Millions of books are destroyed every year. New titles go unread to be pulped. When Aasha heard about this, she made it her mission to give these books a second chance.
She started A Box of Stories, offering four surprise titles in each box, each one a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.
“For £14.99 including shipping, it’s easy to take a chance on a box. It’s less than the cost of a paperback, plus shipping. And it makes the perfect thank-you gift for someone.”
She thought it could be an interesting side project. She never expected just two years later, to be running a venture-backed startup, helping tens of thousands of book lovers discover their new favorite reads, and upending an industry with physical book sales of over £2.9 billion in the UK . Here’s her story.
How a coffee chat sparked the idea for A Box of Stories
While having coffee with a publisher, Aasha heard a surprising statistic: In one quarter alone, over a million books were sent to be pulped. That sent her searching for the real numbers.
“77 million books are destroyed every year in the UK. There are about 200,000 new titles published every year. Only 17% get a marketing budget,” shared Aasha. Publishers have to choose which titles get publicity, and which don’t.
Since shelf space is at a premium, and warehousing is expensive, even titles who do decently well may get sent to pulp. Without promotion and support, new authors and new titles may go undiscovered and unread. Aasha found it a pity that 83% of titles might never get a chance to succeed.
By bundling four titles into each surprise box, she saw a way to give these books a second chance. A Box of Stories was born, promising surprise, discovery, and hidden gems. There was only one problem: she didn’t know anything about eCommerce or the publishing industry. Like many other entrepreneurs, she figured it out herself.
Aasha started A Box of Stories to rescue books from being PULPED! Via Founders Factory FB
From packing boxes in her garage to a hundred sales a day
Aasha bootstrapped the business. Her co-founder, Dhruv Bonnerjee, built the website while they were in Italy for a wedding. They packed and mailed off boxes by hand until they were big enough to work with a fulfillment partner.
Aasha launched A Box of Stories on World Literacy Day, 2018. She shared the news with her friends, many of whom supported her by becoming her first customers. Her phone pinged every time time there was a sale. Aasha remembers checking her phone and seeing the names of her friends come up.
But on the third day, she saw a name she didn’t recognise. And another, and another. Customers were discovering A Box of Stories and they loved it. Soon, Aasha quickly hit a hundred sales a day.
A happy fan and her haul from A Box of Stories. @SwitchOffAndRead
More followed. Quickly, the word got out, and customers were discovering A Box of Stories. There was a real demand for the boxes. Three months after launch, Aasha decided to work on A Box of Stories full time.
Happy customers telling stories: Growing through word-of-mouth
Aasha credits word-of-mouth with helping to grow A Box of Stories. One of her best-ever months came just after launch, with no ads or promotion.
Things really took off once we hit 1000 customers. They were tagging us on socials, telling other people about us, and sending Boxes as gifts.
“Our customers send us lots of love. Some of them thanked us for keeping them sane during the lockdown. Others are grateful that we’ve helped them discover new favorites. Most often, they say ‘I would never have discovered this book by myself.”
Aasha created a closed Facebook community for her loyal customers and ardent fans. It’s a highly engaged group, eager to share the titles they received and review the books that they’ve read.
Some of the more vocal fans have been creating content outside the community as well. There are unboxing videos on YouTube and Instagram, and reviews on blog articles and Facebook, as loyal customers recommend A Box of Stories to their friends — and share their referral code.
People are now creating content about us and posting it on YouTube and Instagram with their referral links. It’s helping us drive word of mouth. One of our customers even posted her referral code on her blog – we love it.
For Aasha, ReferralCandy has helped to drive organic growth and word of mouth. “ReferralCandy has worked incredibly for us. When we started, our referral rate was 8%. Our customers love us, and that’s why ReferralCandy works.”
Compared to other marketing channels, referrals have a lower customer acquisition cost. And that has helped to keep growth sustainable and help the brand grow organically.
“At one point, 98% of new customers came from Facebook Ads. We’re very proud that it’s now 50-50.”
A YouTube video from a happy fan creating content
The Next Chapter for A Box of Stories
Aasha’s not worried about competition from other eCommerce platforms or giants like Amazon.
People go to Amazon to buy books. They come to us to discover books.”
“Our customers love the surprise. At first, there were only two boxes for sale: ‘I Like Surprises’ and ‘I Don’t Like Surprises’. We checked a couple of months later, and 97% of customers chose the surprise box. Maybe there’s no element of surprise left in life anymore.”
A happy reader gets a surprise gift from her husband – a year’s subscription. Via @roxie.read.that
She’s not worried about Audible, either: Audiobooks and ebooks still make up only 20% of the market. 80% of the market is still physical books. Aasha says that millennials are helping physical books make a comeback, and notes that ebooks have seen a decline in sales of up to 20% in recent years.
Meanwhile, A Box of Stories has tapped into another trend that’s taking off in the UK: gifting, or even self-gifting. Aasha notes that the global gift retail market is projected to grow to USD 77bn by 2022.
For Aasha, it’s a win-win-win business. Readers get to discover new titles and authors. There’s a strong thread of sustainability: fewer books are being destroyed. And a percentage of profits goes to the World Literacy Foundation, where Aasha supports literacy for young women in Uganda. And there’s another development in store: publishers are paying attention.
Aasha has collected valuable, hyperlocal data. For example, historical fiction is especially popular with readers in Scotland. And, most of her customers are “Heavy Book Readers”, defined as anyone who reads 12 or more books a year — or three Boxes.
Aasha is now in talks with publishers to get Advance Review Copies into the hands of her customers. Publishers will be able to get feedback from real customers to decide how to better allocate their spending budget.
“We see an opportunity to democratize the book discovery process.” For Aasha and A Box of Stories, the story continues.