It's easy to forget that Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) started out as an attempt to disrupt the bookstore industry.
Of course, the company did spectacularly well in that task. In its rise, it pushed formerly popular chains Borders and Waldenbooks out of business, and Barnes & Noble is struggling to survive.
Now, the retailer -- which has come to sell seemingly nearly everything -- is returning, in a sense, to its roots. It has launched Prime Book Box, a monthly subscription box where customers can get children's books sent to them. It's a service just for Prime members that the company said has been created to help foster a love of reading in children.
What is Prime Book Box?
it's a pretty traditional subscription box service with a lot of flexibility for consumers. Members can opt for deliveries every one, two, or three months. They also have the ability to skip a delivery.
In signing up for the service, which costs $22.99 per box, Prime members select the age of the children the books are for. Kids up to 2 years old get four board books per box, while 3 year olds through 12 year olds wiill receive two age-appropriate hardcover books. In total, the online retailer promises that the contents of each box will be up to 35% off list price and "always an equal or better value than Amazon's everyday low prices." The retailer also notes that if the total cost of the books in a box would be less than $22.99 if they were purchased normally on its website, it will automatically reduce what it charges that month to the lower price.
"We curate highly rated books our customers love and our Amazon Books editors couldn't forget," said Amazon on the web page describing the service. "Our editors read thousands of books every year to find selections your reader will enjoy again and again. You'll discover new releases, classics, and hidden gems tailored to your reader's age."
The adults doing the subscribing can opt to be surprised, or chose to edit the default selection from a curated list. They can also opt to skip a delivery if the choices don't appeal.
Why is Amazon doing this?
While the online leader has moved well beyond being just a digital bookstore, it's still the nation's leading seller of books. That means it's in Amazon's interest to help create new generations of readers.
In addition, subscription boxes are logistics-friendly offerings, which in part allows for lower prices. Essentially, because Amazon will know how many subscribers it has, and what percentage tend to take the default choices, it will be even better positioned to place non-returnable orders to publishers in large quantities.
This may not be a big needle mover for Amazon, but it's a smart, long-term play. The company will not only be helping to foster a love of reading among a new generation, it will also be teaching them to get excited when an Amazon package arrives on their doorstep. That's the sort of brand-building that should pay off for decades, in areas that go well beyond selling more books.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.