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Book Subscription Boxes: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

So you've seen all of the photos on social media, and want to know what the hype is with book boxes. And let me just tell you that there is an entire can of worms to open when you ask someone this question. As a self-proclaimed "book influencer" (aka the only kind of influencer whom it's considered bad to pay for their time and effort, but that's a whole other blog,) I've tried almost every book box out there, and I'm ready to spill the tea!

First, there seem to be three types of book boxes.

  1. The monthly subscription book and merch box: usually includes a signed or bookplate hardcover with maybe an author letter, perhaps some sprayed edges, some cover embossing, or a reversible dust jacket with fanart. Includes several "merch" items usually from various fandoms.

  2. The Special Edition Box. Sounds the same but it's not. This box will either include a special edition book from a very popular author that people are happy to preorder, the next in a popular series, or a set of books that's already complete. Most of the time these come with a couple of merch items exclusive to that book/series.

  3. The Book Only box. Some companies, like Illumicrate, offer the option to get the monthly Special Edition book without the merch. And some companies like Book of the Month offer just books, they don't have merch at all.

Now a list of popular book boxes (not all inclusive!!! There are tons more!)

Beacon Book Box - monthly subscription book and merch box

Bookish Box - Special Edition Box only, used to have Adult and YA monthly subscription boxes.*

Book of the Month - monthly book only, hardcover editions that are not signed, choose one of several monthly choices

The Broken Binding - Special Edition Signed Numbered Book Only - they do mostly series.

Fairyloot - YA monthly subscription book and merch box, Adult book only, Special Edition boxes

Faecrate - monthly subscription book and merch box

Fox & Wit - monthly subscription book and merch box

Goldsboro - Special Edition Signed Numbered Book Only - Premier (various genres) or GSFF (sci-fi/fantasy)

lllumicrate - YA monthly subscription book and merch box (or book only), Afterlight Quarterly (romance book only) and Special Edition Boxes.

The Librarian Box - monthly subscription book and merch box

Litjoy Crate - YA monthly subscription book and merch box, Special Edition boxes

Owlcrate - YA monthly subscription book and merch box, Special Edition boxes

Rainbow Crate - LGBTQIA+ monthly subscription book and merch box

This can be very overwhelming. Which should you choose?! Well, that depends on where you are and what you want. These boxes are based around the world, so depending on where you are, shipping can be expensive!

And as for what you want? Well first I'd suggest checking the backlog for the books these companies have already produces, and make sure that they align with your taste! Someone at each of these companies is receiving and reading ARCs to decide upon which books to carry, and their decision maker's taste may not align with yours.

If you're a collector, if you've heard of Subterranean Press or GrimDark Press, you're probably going to want to choose Goldsboro or Broken Binding, whose books almost always increase in value the minute they become unavailable.

If you just admire pretty books or have a sprayed edge obsession, Fairyloot and Illumicrate are your best bets. I haven't seen either put out a book without sprayed edges in a couple years.

If you want the merch, well frankly most of these companies put out the same items over and over, and there's only so many candles and pins one person can need, and there are tons of resale groups dedicated exclusively to book boxes because of the sheer amount of offloading people do with all that merch. For very useable items you won't resell, Fox & Wit in my opinion is the best. Her book taste also leans slightly more contemporary. For resale value on items Illumicrate and Fairyloot items tend to do the best.

And now for the tea! And is there tea...

The Owlcrate Cup Saga

Owlcrate collaborated with artist Cara Kozik to create Harry Potter mugs (unlicensed merch), which they released one at a time in boxes every few months. They were going to do one for each book, but then JKR just kept opening her mouth. Half the fandom was done but the other half was die hard. Owlcrate posted on social media that due to the demand they decided to keep producing the cups. The outcry was furious, and many people cancelled their subscriptions. Owlcrate was so devastated that they quickly changed their minds, posting that they would not produce the cups. But people had already ordered them and were very upset they weren't going to get them (Owlcrate did refund them.) And the side that was upset they had decided to go ahead with producing them was not mollified at all, citing that it was pure greed that had caused Owlcrate to change their minds, not a change of heart. From what I've seen, Owlcrate has still not recovered from the loss of those subscribers. (I feel it important to mention here that Litjoy does Magical Crates and has been unapologetically producing HP merch for years, and nobody is really complaining about it. I think the difference is that they advertise that's who they are as a company - you know what you're getting going in.)

Fairyloot Crashes

Fairyloot's website is notorious for going absolutely nuts during special edition sales. To be fair, Illumicrate's isn't much better. They've added things like queuing systems over the years, but it's still an absolute cluster every time they have a sale for high demand items. And for people in different time zones who have to wake up early or in the middle of the night for a sale, it can be devastating to spend an hour trying to load the page only to have the item sell out before you can make it through checkout.

The Book Boyfriend Box Soapgate

None of this stuff used to be licensed, and nobody really cared, until Soapgate. The Book Boyfriend Box released an A Court of Thorns and Roses inspired box with several items including a fanfic entitled "A Court of Smut and Wingspans" and a bar of soap, shaped like a penis. No, I'm not describing that right. It was not a phallic shaped soap, it was literally a purple veiny circumcised penis soap. Now first, this box's primary audience was YA, and at the time ACOTAR was considered (unwisely IMO) a YA book - it's since been moved to fantasy, but again, that's a whole other story. When I say people lost their minds, I mean that that company is no longer in business and SJM allows no merch to be produced that isn't licensed anymore.

Faecrate and Bookish Box Shipgate

Ok, creative license on this one because nobody is really calling it this, but I think they will. I have never subscribed to Faecrate because they have a terrible reputation for taking your money and then sending you, instead of your items, endless excuses about why you haven't gotten them. Cancellations never seem to go through, and the customer service apparently could not give two shits if you ever receive your things. This has gone on for years, but because of the rarity of the items, the resell value stays high, and the company has stayed in business. Are they reselling their own items? I just don't understand how anyone still subscribes, but maybe that's just me?

Recently The Bookish Box has been pulling the same stunt. I've even heard it referred to as a Ponzi scheme, selling new things in order to cover the cost of the things they already owe people. Having seen many businesses fail due to this exact thing, I personally don't believe it's a scheme, but more of just poor accounting. But then again, they could have an issue with their packaging company (we've seen that before with Fairyloot) or just a run of really bad luck with their publishers, nobody but them can say.

We've seen many book boxes go out of business, including Baecrate, Fabled Merch, and Shelflove, and while some handled it well and made sure people got their money back, most of them did not.

So what do I recommend? I've learned from my mistakes over the years, and I've learned that the only merch I'm ever going to use is a bookmark, a mug, and the occasional candle. And I've resold hundreds of items with a cabinet at my house still absolutely full of crap that's been listed on Depop forever. That narrows me down to book only. I spend less money purchasing the merch items I fall in love with from the resale market. And for my taste, I really prefer Goldsboro's GSFF choices, which veer more High Fantasy and Hard Sci-fi. Illumicrate is a close second though (they are YA but leaning NA and lots more sci-fi choices and lots of inclusiveness), and I occasionally purchase a special edition box from them or Fairyloot. But your reading preferences may be different, so choose accordingly.

Be wary that sometimes some of these monthly subscriptions release the same book, so if you don't mind a spoiler check out a Facebook spoiler group. If you find that two of your subscriptions have the same book, you can skip a month. (Most of them allow this.)

I also recommend that if you preorder books or order book boxes, that you keep a running list of what you've ordered in order of publication or release date, so that you don't order duplicates, you can update any shipping delays, and you know when you should have received something but haven't. I personally use a checklist in the Evernote app for this (the free version is fine,) because I can access it from my phone or computer.

A word on the resellers market: it's a controversial topic to be sure, but many people subscribe to these boxes and purchase special editions solely for resale purposes. Every single company will limit purchases to one per customer, but of course there are ways people get around that. What people seem the most upset about is having to pay a higher price for something that it's original value. But we live in a capitalist society, and if people are able to make money, they usually will. People may be paying for a car to be fixed or an unexpected medical bill or just trying to survive, nobody is getting rich from reselling books or merchandise. They're not making money off of life saving insulin, they're reselling a high demand book that nobody NEEDS but lots of people WANT. They're not evil or mean or your enemy.

And beware of shipping. Of the companies I listed, only Goldsboro and Broken Binding claim to be collector's editions. Therefore they package and ship them that way, like a delicate egg packed in a ton of bubble wrap. Goldsboro even includes the mylar protector on every book. The other book subscription boxes make no claims about collectability, and they usually pack their books in a thin fabric sleeve with a bunch of merch on top and some grass corrugated cardboard. So if your book has a small flaw, they may not replace it. Read their replacement policy and keep your expectations in check.

I hope that's enough info for you to make a decision. If you are wanting a broader list of book box options, my suggestion is to go to Instagram and search for "book box." You will see tons of options.

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