Have you ever purchased your favorite book at a chain bookstore or ordered a book online? If so, you know that there’s not much interaction between the author, the publisher, and the consumer. This invisible separation between each party is how publishing has always worked, but that doesn’t mean it’s how it always has to work.
Jason Kutasi, for one, certainly wasn’t going to let the traditional methods get in the way of his new approach. With Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream, he found a new way to sell books, using a direct-to-customer method that broke the mold—and how!
His unconventional approach helped him forge a new way forward with PDIC in a way that not even he could have predicted when he started.
When it all began in November 2017, it seemed the industry was ready to break away from more conventional publishing and distribution methods, and PDIC found quick success. After blowing through its initial 5,000-unit inventory, the company has been on the up-and-up. In 2018, just two titles, “From A to Z” and “Ancient Adventures: 20 Epic Stories of the Bible,” helped it sell $1.45 million.
It’s not just good books that help bring about success like this; it’s also the right approach. Targeting the right kind of customer and listening to what readers and buyers want is arguably one of the essential aspects. For PDIC, it was what helped them break the mold. It was important for Kutasi to learn more about a customer’s overall experience, especially when PDIC first started.
To do this, he took a lot of customer service calls himself, trying to figure out why they would buy a book, what they needed to make that purchase, and so on. For example, with a book like Ancient Adventures, Kutasi found that it appealed most to grandparents who wanted to prioritize faith in their grandchildren’s lives. So, they created videos and testimonials to promote the book, and it worked wonders.
“It still runs today and is one of our best sellers years later,” Kutasi said.
Kutasi ran with this approach, combining it with his direct-to-consumer method and stellar digital marketing plan. PDIC began producing books that helped young readers learn important life lessons. The company sold more than 1.35 million books in 2020 and got over 365,000 five-star ratings.
For Kutasi, if a retailer doesn’t run ads for the books, they’re just a shopping cart processing a sale. “If that’s the case, I’m going to process those sales on my own cart and own the one-to-one relationship with the customer,” Kutasi said.
Shaking Up the Publishing Industry.
Kutasi may not have set out to break the mold, but break it he did with PDIC’s lightning-fast success.
Initially, Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream was a labor of love, born out of the passion for books and children and the motivation to share beautifully illustrated and inspirational stories. It wanted to do this without leaving anyone behind—with a focus on how authors, bookstores, and customers could benefit.
It turns out this people-first attitude was the best formula for success for this publisher, which quickly began to disrupt the industry. However, according to Kutasi, they didn’t think of themselves as disruptors. PDIC, to them, was simply a publisher that wasn’t willing to conform to old rules that didn’t benefit certain people. Even though they didn’t do it intentionally or invent e-commerce, they made the most of a vertical with different margins from other e-commerce—that of children’s books.
This doesn’t mean the publisher has sworn off all the usual distribution routes, and you can find their books on Amazon as well. However, they don’t spend any money marketing on the site.
Kutasi found that while Amazon has some reach, Snapchat, TikTok, Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Pinterest have a lot more. So, while the retailer makes up 20% of their sales, 80% of their books are sold through their own site instead.
And even with their direct-to-consumer approach, Kutasi focuses on supporting traditional bookstores and said he doesn’t want anyone to think that they don’t. “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,” he said, adding that the combination of ads and wholesale discounts is what makes their books so appealing to bookstores.
Bookstores are an important channel for PDIC since many people still prefer to purchase their books in-store instead of online. “Our own experience and numerous marketing studies have supported this,” Kutasi said.
PDIC’s approach with their marketing is still beneficial for brick-and-mortar stores. Kutasi said the PDIC runs make customers more likely to recognize a title when they see it in a bookstore, increasing the chances of a sale there.
Prioritizing What Authors Need.
Authors know better than anyone that curating your customer base once your book is out there in the world can be difficult or near impossible. Apart from promoting it on their own platforms, they’re usually at the mercy of third-party distribution platforms, leaving them out of the loop in a sense. And even though the advances some authors receive can be nice, they’re usually to the advantage of the agent, not the author.
PDIC understands that independent authors need more support than today’s publishing industry gives them. So, their approach is different and tries to deliver precisely what the author needs in the best way possible. Kutasi explained that in their publishing model, an important thing they focused on was to look at the various obstacles authors face and then set about building a better “mousetrap.” Kutasi realized that they could cut out most of the middlemen with a direct-to-consumer approach, helping authors get better royalties and consumers get better prices.
After all, what author wouldn’t want a company to help with distribution, printing, fulfillment, and customer service? With PDIC, an author receives all this at no marketing cost whatsoever, with the added advantage of benefiting from royalties and the satisfaction of knowing that every title is tested repeatedly. They can also email readers through the company if they want to.
Kutasi said the first time the company did this was with a book called “Super Tiny Ghost” when he asked the author if she wanted to email her readers. After she agreed and they had emailed everyone, the response she received from people who had bought the book was tremendous. It helped her build a tribe and have a relationship with her readers.
As if all the benefits of this method aren’t enough, it also means books find their way into the hands of as many children as possible.
More Than Just Books for Customers.
It’s not just authors who benefit from PDIC’s unconventional approach. Parents, grandparents, and family members find a new, more wholesome experience at this one-stop shop.
“We want to publish books with a purpose, that parents should buy, with a reason to buy,” Kutasi said. With their easy-to-use website, the option to shop by age, genre, or even format, and their more approachable authors, there’s something for everyone here.
For Kutasi, it’s all about creating the perfect experience—the right experience.
“It’s about delivering the right kind of content, about building a tribute for the authors,” he said. “It’s the one-to-one relationships you build between the author and the reader.”
About Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream
Puppy Dogs & Ice Cream is a small, independent children’s book publisher 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.