Barefoot and proud of it!
Call her unconventional. Nancy Traversy, is perfectly OK with it. In fact, she’s built an award-winning children’s book publishing business on that kind of thinking.
“I’m proud we’ve always thought outside of the box. Moving to the States [in 2000] was a leap of faith. Everyone said we were crazy, but if we hadn’t done it, we wouldn’t have survived in England.” In fact, when the co-founder and CEO of Barefoot Books looks back over the company’s near-20 years in the industry, she’s most proud of what she and co-founder Tessa Strickland didn’t do.
“People have come to us and said, if you’d just make the cover a little more pink, and more mass-market, I’ll buy 100,000 copies. And I’ve said, but I don’t want it to be more pink. I want it to be Barefoot. I don’t really like pink. I’m not going to dumb-down books so I can sell to the mass market.”
Making savvy business decisions with a mind open to new ideas, that’s Nancy’s approach, and it’s the Barefoot brand. “It’s about connection. It’s the image of a barefoot child, feet firmly planted on the ground, exploring. That’s where we started years ago, and we’ve always stuck to that mission, and I feel like the rest of the world might have just caught up with us.”
Another choice the multi-million dollar company didn’t agree to: selling to large chain bookstores. In 2005, Nancy decided she only wanted to work with people “who knew what our company was all about.” To further this goal, Barefoot opened a flagship store in Cambridge, MA, and asked customers to read their manuscripts and take a look at new artists. Customers offered them their opinions in exchange for a free book.
Barefoot now sells its books to independent retailers, schools, and libraries. In 2009, they launched their Ambassador program: a global network of people and organizations that market and sell Barefoot in their local communities and online.
“We’re trying to build a network model that’s all about global communities, about connecting people who care about the values that underpin the business, which is the importance of imagination in a world of too much information,” Nancy explains.
Last summer, Barefoot Books opened a new outlet in Concord, MA, where the company can interact and give back to the community with free and nominally priced family events. “It’s a family centre, where we offer yoga and storytelling. We also have a pottery studio, guest storytellers, puppet shows, African drumming, and arts and crafts,” says Nancy.
In the UK, Barefoot has been in business in Bath for 10 years and has plans to set up shop in Oxford this fall, opening a studio like the one in Massachusetts. “It will be big centre with a café in it. It’s both a showroom and a chance to do test marketing, to get direct feedback from our customers on our books and complementary products.”
As other book publishers scramble to keep up in the digital age, Barefoot seems one step ahead of the game. “We have lots of exciting projects in the works, with high- profile partners,” Nancy says, declining to reveal more details until fall. “The latest advances in iPads and other platforms enable us to bring our books to life for families in a very creative way that’s never been done before,” she says.
Barefoot Books has already launched e-content that has proved to be popular, including a weekly podcast on iTunes and on the company’s website (www.barefootbooks.com/podcast) as well as animated videos on YouTube and their website.
While Nancy is excited about her company creating digital content, she feels confident that children’s print books will survive the e-book revolution. “People will always want to have a child on their laps, to have that sharing experience I don’t think you can get that with an iPad or Kindle or whatever mobile device comes next.
“Those applications have their place, but it’s just not the same as turning the pages of a book,” Nancy says. “I don’t think that joy will ever go away.”