An Argument Why Book Personalization Won’t Take Off

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

On the news that Sourcebooks had signed yet another deal to bring a big brand to its Put Me in the Story book personalization platform, I wanted to write a blog post about it for Forbes. To be frank, I felt it was something that was kinda “neat” and should be brought to the attention of non-book-publishing folks.

So, I spoke with Sourcebooks CEO Dominique Raccah about it as well as some digital publishing analysts. Raccah is really bullish on the concept and predicts that personaliztion, agile publishing and a few other of the company’s innovative products will make up 20% of the company’s revenue next year.


The analysts are less enthusiastic, calling it “niche.” Raccah later told me that based on exit surveys of buyers of the product, 95% thought it was a “good idea” and 85% planned on coming back and buying again.

One person I spoke with who didn’t make it into the Forbes piece was Forrester principal analyst and Ph.D. James McQuivey. His thoughts didn’t really fit into the post but I wanted to share them here because I think they’re interesting:

“There are many platforms where we could more easily test whether personalization matters. Mobile games, for example, could be easily developed to make them more personal, including inserting pictures of yourself into the game environment right from the phone.


“The fact that none of these things are happening in environments where it would be much easier to introduce suggests that either people don’t really want it all that much or that there’s a huge opportunity that is being missed. I am inclined to believe it’s the former — other than the sweet notion of giving a child a personalized gift (oddly American, the idea that you should be the center of everything, don’t you think?), it seems like a lot of work for a very minimal benefit.


“At this point, it’s more likely that the array of media someone owns or accesses is enough of a personal mark, the way your personal library used to say something about you. Today it’s your phone that says something about you that makes you feel unique. A single piece of content personalized to you is probably not going to create enough of a separate pull to make it a category all its own. Unless of course you are a doting grandparent, then the message is less about personalization and more about my undying love for you expressed across the generations and the technology just happens to be good grandparent bait.


“In this particular case, if the Hello Kitty personalized experiences sell well, it will be more on the strength of the Hello Kitty brand than on the unique value of the personalization.”

Just food for thought as you get ready for your weekend.

5 thoughts on “An Argument Why Book Personalization Won’t Take Off

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  3. Chintu Parikh

    Jeremy, once again very relevant article. I agree with the assessment that personalized print story books has a limited market potential, also one that is hard to scale – mainly because the consumer price points are quite high ($30 per copy). At this price point, there are probably very few takers. Since the cost of custom print books is high and the consumer quality expectations for such products is also elevated, I can’t see how the price points can be substantially lower. So the market size is going to be quite limited. Also, the margins can be quite low in this business since the cost of customer acquisition (finding the customers who are seeking such products and afford the price is difficult) is going to quite a bit. It seems like revenue growth for \I See Me\ the company, who is market leader in this segment, has stalled in past five years – around $5M. The company has been around for 13 years.

    On other hand personalized pure digital products can be a great market opportunity. Mainly because digital lends itself to personalization (offers a lot more options compared to its printed counterpart) and the incremental cost of serving an additional customer is nearly zero. You can see JibJab media, the creators of Starring You Books and Starring You Videos apps, is doing great in the app store even though they do not have any branded stories. Starring You Books is consistently among Top 10 grossing apps within the Book Category on App Store and its recently launched Starring You Videos app is among the Top 100 grossing apps for Kids.

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