Todd Lawton is the co-founder and managing director focused on marketing and product development of Out of Print, a company that wears its passion for books and literacy on its sleeves (literally). I was delighted to exchange emails with Todd to explore Out of Print’s origin story, what the company is doing for literacy, and how it’s strategizing its growth.
On Origins and Growth
Non Wels: When and why did you start the company? Can you share a little bit about the OOP origin story?
Todd Lawton: I started Out of Print in 2010 with my lifelong friend Jeff LeBlanc. We have a love of books and bookish lifestyle. Over beers eight or nine years ago, we got stuck on the topic of books and why you couldn’t wear your favorite book in the same way someone could show love for a band or sports team. That was the light bulb moment that put us on this wild path.
From the moment we had a glimmer of a notion of Out of Print to where we are now, I’ve learned that it is extremely hard to start a business. There are so many factors that propel an idea into a business. Some controllable, many not. You have to trust yourself, find very good advisors and partners, and persist. Starting a business is not glamorous. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions. At the same time, it’s one the best feelings to see an idea come to life and be appreciated.
NW: How do you define success for OOP? Does growth play a role? And what does “growth” mean for OOP?
TL: Success is having a brand presence at a consumer event or festival and hear people talk about OOP with “love” in the same sentence. From day one, our mission has been to build on the passion readers have for their favorite books and to bring people together through what they read. To see that readers recognize Out of Print as a brand that is doing this is what keeps us excited. As a company, we are never truly satisfied. We know we can do things better and appeal to more readers. There are infinite ways to experience a book and almost as many books we should have a great tee, tote or whatever to help promote it. The hard part of our job is choosing.
Growth is very important for us. We think books are in a fierce fight for people’s attention—there are so many ways to spend your free time. If our merchandise can help to keep books top of mind . . . we want to send more of it into the world. It also aligns with our giveback and ability to support different communities around the world. Growth means more opportunities for people who need the help.
NW: At Winning Edits, we deeply value creating authentic connections with the people and brands we work with and serve. How does OOP create authentic connections—with giving partners, with OOP customers?
TL: OOP has always been focused on authenticity. From product to consumer connections, we know that readers see through B.S. We try our best to be genuine. We love books as much as anyone, so there is a natural B.S. filter on anything that we put out into the wild.
NW: How have things changed since Penguin Random House purchased Out of Print?
TL: We’ve been a part of PRH for about five months. Honestly, not much has changed in the way we operate or think about our role in the industry and readers’ lives. What we are seeing is that we have a lot more access to new markets, authors, content, and their communities. We’re basically able to do what we have always done but on a larger scale.
NW: You guys do an amazing job in promoting/marketing your brand. What’s the secret?
TL: I really wish we knew. If I were to try to create a recipe for it:
- Quality products
- Honest intentions—in our case, helping share the joy of reading and improving lives through improving access to books and literacy support
- Have fun—do things that don’t make sense sometimes because you think, “Hey, this could be cool”
- Regular access to customers and fans—online, at shows, through wholesale accounts, etc.
Mix equal proportions of each in an ovenproof dish. Bake at 350º for 55 minutes. Serve with a generous side of bacon.
NW: Do you have any insights into the OOP strategy for social media, email marketing, and advertising?
TL: Being a small, scrappy company, we are always looking for ways to partner with like-minded brands, people, and organizations to help introduce what we do to new audiences. To quote the Beatles, “We get by with a little help from our friends.”
NW: According to World Bank data, global literacy rates have been increasing (to 86 percent in 2016). In what ways, however small, has OOP contributed to this rise?
TL: It’s a nice increase, but shouldn’t we aim for something a lot closer to 100 percent? Literacy depends on having access to books. There are many parts of the world that simply don’t have books, so we are trying to fix that. Since 2010, we have helped to donate over 2.8 million books to communities in need. If you consider that each of these books has the potential to reach multiple people in a community, you can easily make a case that we are helping to improve the lives of tens of millions of people.
On Future Fun
NW: Any hints on new (old) literary properties you’re targeting?
TL: We are working on a ton of ideas. All in various stages of development. I’m very excited for the pipeline of product for the end of the year and 2018. Coming this month, we have a collection of products for a mouse who is turning fifty this year, and new socks that will impress your Droogs, wizards, muggles, and pigeons alike.
NW: Favorite recent book read? Go!
TL: We recently attended Comic-Con in NYC, where I was told I “had” to read [Alan Moore’s] Watchmen. I did, and now feel that I need to pay a lot more attention to graphic novels. Also, currently reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks on a recommendation from my wife. I’m lucky; she has great taste in books.