In the publishing world, books have long been sold in the same traditional manner with an invisible separation between author, publisher, distributor, retailer and consumer. With so many hands in the pot, this means authors make less money and consumers pay more.
Jason Kutasi did not let these notions get in the way when he made the decision to take a new approach to book publishing. However, even he could not have foreseen just how ready the industry was to break away from its conventional approach and forge a new path forward.
It all started in November 2017 when in its very first month, Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream or *PDIC blew through its initial inventory of 5,000 children’s books. The company’s growth continued to skyrocket in 2018 when revenue hit $1.45M with just two titles. The company’s founders took a look at books on the market and saw an opportunity to grow by delivering books with a purpose – books that teach valuable life lessons children need to read.
“The success of Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream came from filling a need… Every family has dozens of books with beautiful art and a great story, but there was a gap in the market. We quickly realized there was an opportunity for us to deliver children’s books which sit between traditional educational content and books with an entertaining story. When we started, I would take a lot of customer service calls personally. I really wanted to understand a customer’s ‘why’ and overall experience. It’s really about the ‘why.’ Why should someone buy the book? Why do they NEED to buy the book? We created a bunch of videos and testimonials that pushed our books hard. Our first two books still run today and are still some of our best sellers, years later,” Kutasi said.
Kutasi’s new approach of providing quality books with important life lessons for young readers, supported by a direct-to-consumer digital marketing plan, propelled the company’s quick takeoff. The company proved the old publishing industry model was ripe for disruption when it sold more than 1.35 million books in 2020 and received more than 365,000 five-star ratings.
“I looked at it this way, if an online retailer isn’t going to market or run ads for our titles, then they are just acting as a shopping cart to process a sale online. If that’s the case, I prefer to process those sales on our own cart and build a one-to-one relationship with the customer,” Kutasi said.
Breaking the publishing mold.
The astounding part of PDIC’s quick success is that the company didn’t set out to disrupt one of the largest industries in the world. It simply wanted a business that was beneficial to authors, bookstores and customers. Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream was molded by a passion for two things: books and children. They saw an opportunity to share inspirational and beautifully illustrated stories with families.
“I don’t really think of ourselves as disruptors, but just a publisher who doesn’t conform to the old rules of the industry,” Kutasi explained. “We didn’t do it intentionally. We also didn’t invent e-commerce, but simply bolted e-commerce onto a vertical, children’s books, that doesn’t have the same margins as most ecomm businesses. I guess we just managed to figure some things out to make direct-to-consumer work for kids books.”
PDIC Books can be found on Amazon, but only accounts for about 20% of the company’s sales. Currently, the company does not spend one dollar marketing on Amazon.
“Amazon does have a lot of reach, but those people are in-market already looking for a book. We get way more reach and scale with Facebook, Google, YouTube, Pinterest, Snapchat and TikTok than we can get on Amazon,” Kutasi stated.
While that approach is different, the biggest disruption has come in the channel conflict between publishers and retailers. PDIC’s direct-to-consumer sales interrupts the traditional publishing industry approach, but Kutasi is adamant the company is nothing but supportive of traditional bookstores.
“I don’t want anyone to think that running direct–to–consumer means we don’t support bookstores,” Kutasi said. “That couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, our discount typically exceeds the industry’s standard trade discount because we don’t have to pay a distribution fee. So, the combination of our ads and wholesale discounts make our books really appealing to bookstores.”
Kutasi said, “When a customer walks into a bookstore and recognizes a title from one of our ads, it is beneficial to the brick-and-mortar stores. This is how brand awareness works for all ecommerce products. We are also working on a mapping tool to show customers a list of retailers where they can buy our books, and we are starting with the smallest retailers first. These small bookstores are the ones who could use our help the most.”
“Also, many people simply prefer to purchase in-store, rather than online. Our own experience and numerous marketing studies have supported this,” Kutasi explained.
Better opportunities for authors.
PDIC provides support to independent authors who are grossly underrepresented in today’s publishing world by offering a direct-to-consumer approach which gets books in the hands of as many children as possible.
“When we built our publishing model, we took a look at the pain points authors face today, and set about to build a better mousetrap,” Kutasi said. “We realized running a direct-to-consumer business allows us to cut out a lot of middlemen in the industry. This means better royalties for authors and better pricing for consumers.”
Kutasi explained the company handles all the marketing and publishing costs for the author, not charging a single penny for distribution, printing, fulfillment or customer service. The authors get an opportunity to sit back and collect a royalty check providing them the freedom to work on new books.
However, the author’s benefits from PDIC go beyond royalties. The company tests each and every title with paid ads, before going to print, to give the author the best chance of success. This is about $2,000 in testing that authors get free of charge. PDIC also allows authors to send an email to their readers.
“I remember the first time we did this. The book was the “Super Tiny Ghost,” and I asked the author if she wanted to email all her readers. She said sure, so that’s what we did. The emails she received from people who had actually bought her book were tremendous. She now had a relationship with her readers and the ability to build a tribe,” Kutasi recalled.
Consumers value the content and experience.
PDIC provides a one stop shop for parents and grandparents to find quality books that instill lifelong values within their young readers while creating the perfect experience. The company has built an easy to use website where customers can shop by age, best sellers, new releases and eBooks, as well as separated into categories including bedtime stories, social emotional learning, family and friends, inspirational and more.
“We want to publish books with a purpose, books that parents should read with their kids to teach them valuable lessons,” Kutasi said. “Our books highlight topics such as emotional learning, loss, gratitude, and so much more. We strive to make meaningful and educational stories that will help a child grow into the best version of themselves.”
In addition to the ease of shopping, customers are given the ability to create that one-to-one relationship with the author that is just not available through the typical publishing route.
“It’s about creating an incredible experience for the customer. It’s about delivering the right kind of content. It’s about building a tribe for the authors. It’s about the one-to-one relationships between the author and the reader,” Kutasi concluded.
Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream is a small, independent children’s book published based in San Diego, CA. They offer a publishing alternative to the traditional publishing model which benefits authors and customers alike. They have a strong belief in supporting American business, and all of their books are printed in the United States.