Arsenal Pulp Press's recent highlights include Joshua Whitehead’s Jonny Appleseed making the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist and the Governor General's Award shortlist; Lindsay Wong’s The Woo-Woo making the Hilary Weston Writer’s Trust shortlist and being selected as a finalist for this year’s Canada Reads; and Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s Care Work selling out within one month. The press is known for championing vital new and diverse voices, for publishing in a wide range of genres, and for their tremendous success in building US sales. For all these reasons, we were thrilled when Arsenal Pulp’s publisher Brian Lam and associate publisher Robert Ballantyne chose ReaderBound as their platform for an exciting new website.
We sat down with Brian and Robert so they could tell us about how their new ReaderBound site is helping to achieve important goals for the press.
“We wanted a website design and system that would really showcase our diverse catalogue, make it easy for both Canadian and American customers to shop from the site, and allow us to experiment with sales campaigns and discounting,” said Brian. “Our old site was too subdued, sluggish, and compartmentalized.”
Rolling out the red carpet for niche genres
The Arsenal Pulp list spans several niches and sub-genres that traditional publishing categories don’t quite capture. It’s also a daring program, with many of Arsenal Pulp’s books among the most groundbreaking and genre-bending in CanLit.
“A key priority for us was a custom subject list that would appear our home page and clearly articulate the sub-genres we’re known for,” said Robert. These include books written by LGBTQ+ and BIPOC (i.e., Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) authors, graphic novels, and cooking titles, as well as more conventional categories including fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and children’s and YA titles.
On Arsenal Pulp’s new homepage, the custom subject list is prominent, and repeated in a drop-down menu format at the top of the page as well. Readers with specific interests can quickly get to the kind of books they’re most interested in rather than having to wade through the website and potentially get frustrated. We all know how quickly web visitors can move from slight frustration to abandoning a site altogether.
“We’re happy that the new site is geared to how our readers actually think about and search for books,” said Brian. “In addition, many of the categories are sympathetic to each other, making it more likely that people will explore more than one category.”
“The site looks a lot bolder now, too,” noted Brian.
A shopping experience tuned to wherever customers are
We knew how important export sales are for Arsenal Pulp, and so we integrated two shopping carts on the site: one for Canadian customers, and one for American customers. The site automatically detects whether the customer is in Canada or the US and it directs them to the corresponding shop. Customers can also switch manually between the Canada and the US store at any time.
Then there’s the shipping system. Arsenal Pulp’s site is integrated with live web services from the US Postal Service and Canada Post and this allows customers to see real shipping costs based on the weight and size of their order and the shipping address. Previously a flat rate shipping process was used. “We love that we can now offer the lowest possible shipping charges for our customers,” said Brian and Robert.
The new system also makes it easier for the press to operate the site, since any changes in postal rates are automatically reflected in the final price.
Research shows that high and/or unexpected shipping charges are the top reason that customers abandon their carts at the last minute. That Arsenal Pulp’s new integrated shipping options allow the lowest price possible to be passed on to their customers can only be a boost for sales.
Leveraging the power of superstar authors through a pre-ordering feature
Many of Arsenal Pulp’s authors have extensive networks of their own and are actively involved in promoting their books. For example, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha has been a key source – through her own social media channels and other promotional outlets – of direct sales for Arsenal Pulp of her acclaimed book, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice. “She’s just been amazing – she works so hard,” said Robert. “It’s great to have a site that our authors can feel proud of, so they feel good about referring their audiences to our site – especially to encourage pre-ordering.”
Jack be nimble
Brian and Robert said they have definitely noticed a sales uptick since their ReaderBound site went live, and they attribute this in part to the campaigns they’ve been able to easily run on the site. These include a Boxing Week sale for all their books (excluding forthcoming titles) as well as category-specific sales (e.g., graphic novels).
“It’s really easy for us to quickly begin a campaign, end it, and see what’s working and what’s not,” said Robert and Brian. “Plus that big banner on the homepage is great for emphasizing what you most want visitors to check out, whether that’s a discount or your new spring catalogue.”