Book boxes have exploded in the bookish world, creating a vibrant market for special editions of books and merchandise for your favorite fandoms. From OwlCrate to Fairyloot and everything in-between, the market is saturated with options for every type of bibliophile. But what if I told you that despite buying the occasional book box, I kind of hate them?
This month’s Bookish Banter discussion is all about my love and hate relationship with book boxes, and dives into why I’m inevitably always disappointed yet continue to buy them on occasion. (I contain multitudes.)
Hope springs eternal, but book boxes (almost) always disappoint
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a minimalist will always be disappointed when opening a book box. So Kal, I hear you asking, why do you keep buying them if you are a minimalist and don’t like trinkets? One word: FOMO. Okay, that’s really an acronym for four words – fear of missing out – but you catch my drift.
My rule of thumb these days is to only order boxes when I know the book included and want to read it. Of course it is still a gamble for me whether or not I will like what they do with the cover, and I still prefer to preorder the books to help support the author’s first week sales, so sometimes I have to decide which book to order because generally don’t like collecting multiple editions of books (unless they are a top-tier fave). I treat the bookish items as bonuses because I almost always will save them for a giveaway instead of using them myself.
An Exception to the Rule
Out of the handful of book boxes I’ve purchased over the years, there’s been exactly one that I loved basically everything inside of it: October 2020.
I knew as soon as I saw the reveal for “A Glorious Haunting” that it was basically a box curated for me. I broke my rule of only ordering boxes when they feature a book I’m excited to read and got this one anyways… and am forever thankful I did.
There’s a certain kind of excitement that comes along with what amounts to a mystery box. Every time a new monthly theme is announced, I get swept up in the possibilities. What if this edition of the book is STUNNING and I love it more than the normal edition? What if there’s an item I NEED to have and I miss out?
The Same Fandoms for Merch
I am so incredibly sick of merch for popular books with established fandoms and tons of merchandise available. Illuminae, SJM books, V.E. Schwab books, Harry Potter... Even if we are fans of these books, chances are we already have more than enough items representing them on our shelves!
I want items from new fandoms, heck, I’d love the items to be themed to the book that’s being included beyond just the monthly enamel pin! And while yes, I’ve noticed that Owlcrate at least has stopped include HP merch and branching out on fandoms, but let me tell you: the cool items in the box? The ones they put their money towards? It’s the one or two established fandoms. I’m still bitter that The Bone Houses merch were skull spoons found on AlliExpress and in no way branded to the book other than being skull-shaped. Yes, I liked the item but come on. And stop including chap stick in the box as a merch item!
I have additional thoughts on this with the April 2021 Owlcrate specifically, but I’ll save that discussion for my April book haul post so I don’t spoil subscribers who haven’t received their boxes yet.
Pairing BIPOC Books with Non-BIPOC Merch
Honestly this bothers me a lot: it’s as if the book subscriptions are worried that a box themed after a BIPOC won’t sell well if they don’t include merch for books with bigger fandoms… but it is as if they fail to recognize there are tons of books by BIPOC authors with huge followings that are eager for merch. I want to see not only a diversity in the fandoms represented in book boxes, but in the items as well. Where are the banners and bento boxes and trinket dishes and tapestries and kitchen tools and candles for those?
It’s a problem that books like Warcross will get a sticker or An Ember in the Ashes will get a puzzle or The Year of the Witching gets rollerball perfume (which come on… not everyone uses perfume).
We need to talk about the immense privilege it is to not only have the funds to buy a one-off box or subscribe on a regular basis, but also how shipping costs can be prohibitive. Most of the book boxes are based in the US or UK, so any bookish lover outside of these countries have to pay shipping fees as expensive as the box itself sometimes! At least when publishers print their own special editions you can try to buy them on Book Depository (that’s how I nabbed my hidden cover variant for Legendary!). Heck, I have Illumicrate FOMO every single month but can’t afford the shipping costs to the US.
Don’t even get me started on when multiple boxes choose the same book. I think this may be one of my villain origin stories because then you have 1-4 cover variants entering the world and competing with one another. I think a lot of people may be enticed to subscribe because of the special covers — which is a gamble in itself when sometimes all they do is throw a color filter over the original artwork and call it a day. (Looking at you, Crier’s War. Owlcrate did you dirty.)
Ultimately I think book boxes encourage collecting and highlight how materialistic our capitalist society is. While collecting has always been a thing, multiple special editions for books with top marketing budgets from their publisher really exacerbates other issues of unequal promotion of titles. I’m sure that inclusion in any one of the big book boxes is a huge boost to the visibility of the book in the community, but is it necessary to be the book choice for 2 or 3 of them?
Basically every time I open a book box, I have regret. I mentioned earlier in this post that I am a minimalist, and that’s incredibly true. I don’t like clutter and everything I own tends to have a use or spark tons of joy. My bookshelves are full of books and little else: I’m not the kind of reader who displays mugs and other items. So I’ve come to the realization that I’d much rather curate merch from shops directly instead of hoping that a book box will get it right again.
Book Box Alternatives
Instead of just complaining about mainstream book subscription boxes, I want to also take the time to uplift alternative book subscriptions curated by BIPOC and some BIPOC and LGBT+ merch shops beyond what you may already know about.
New Suns Book Box Subscription
Choose from a selection of 1-5 books from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), LGBTQ+, and international writers each month (changing to quarterly in June 2021). Every box also comes with 2-3 creations by creators of color and queer creators. New Suns partners with independent creators and help uplift underrepresented voices.
Each box costs $35, plus $5 shipping (US), and the money directly supports BIPOC and queer creators.
Decentered Lit Book Box Subscription
Decentered Lit is a quarterly book subscription box based in the Caribbean (ships outside of the Caribbean, click here) focused on amplifying marginalized voices. Books they’ve featured include Black Suns by Rebecca Roanhorse and When No One Was Watching by Alyssa Cole.
Subscribers can choose between a Young Adult or Adult subscription, and each has the option of being book-only or full of goodies. Quarterly subscriptions range from $28 – $40, not including shipping.
Reading in Color Book Box Subscription
Each monthly box includes 1 middle grade & 1 young adult title written by an author of color, as well as bookish goodies like bath bombs, bookmarks, candles etc.
Each box costs $37.99 and features a different theme and perspective each month.
Bookish Merch Shops
If you’re like me and want to purchase your own bookish merch, here’s a list of BIPOC and queer creator shops to check out. Many thanks to Cynic Prime on Twitter for sharing so many bookish shops with me (but rip to my wallet)!
- Looking for Book Sleeves? Check out Bibliofancy Bookish Things on IG
- Stationary, sticker, and bookmark lovers definitely need to check out The Seasonal Pages
- Want a unique pressed floral bookmark? Mosey on over to danaethe_ on IG
- For Jewelry inspired by books, you need to visit Oh Panda Eyes
- Candles and perfume oils your thing? Check out A Scent Story Candle Co.
Thank you so much for reading this post, friends! I love chatting and ranting about topics in the bookish community that I have Opinions on, and let me tell you… I didn’t realize mine were so complex on book boxes!
💬 What are your thoughts on book boxes? Do you subscribe to any?
💬 If you could start a book box company, what would you include?
💬 What diverse book boxes do you recommend?