Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What publishers could learn from Build-a-Bear Workshop

My kids loved the Build-a-Bear Workshops when we lived in the USA. There was a special Workshop at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadephia Phillies baseball team. The team mascot is the Phillie Phanatic and you can build a one for yourself. There is always a huge queue outside the shop on game night.

This is how it works. You pick up a half-stuffed Bear (or Phillie Phanatic) and then choose which clothes, shoes, and other accessories you want. You can pick a voicebox to embed in the stuffed toy. You take it all to the assistant who inserts a "heart" and adds more stuffing, sews it up and dresses it. A Bear is born. It is a simple concept but a huge hit with kids. It turns the buying of a teddy bear into an event to remember.

The remarkable part of Build-a-Bear Workshops is not the customization. It is the half-stuffed bear that you start with. These are all exactly the same! And yet every child leaves their store believing that the bear they created is unique to them (it most likely is since the variations are almost endless). What Build-a-Bear Workshops have done is to figure out how to build a customization business that is profitable AND that delights the customers, in this case kids.

Isn't this what publishers have been searching for? A way to build a customizable experience that delights individual customers but doesn't kill any hope of profit. What if publishing could be more like Build-a-Bear?

Take textbooks and teachers. What would be the "half-stuffed" text that teachers could use to add features and content to build their own text? What is it about a great textbook that makes it great? Perhaps the didactic flow, perhaps the content, or the way of engaging the student. Whatever it is, what if we could distill that into the half-stuffed text and let the teacher build the rest?

This model is of course well established in some areas with services such as netvibes using RSS feeds. There are also sites that offer course materials. As far as I know there is no-one that offers an easy-to-use build-a-textbook service for teachers.


  1. Pam Poppalardo, Publisher, HS JournalsJune 17, 2009 at 10:03 PM

    Hi, Jonathan. Maarten told me about your posting and I fully agree that the Build-A-Text or Build-A-Journal is a great concept especially given the depth and breadth of Elsevier content. And the idea that readers/subscribers/purchasers/teachers could add their own content would be very cool. Have a great day.

  2. Thanks Pam

    What I think would be very cool is to make adding their own content very, very easy. Something like drag-and-drop. So we provide the underlying structure that they can drop content into. Making it easy is true value that publishers can add in the future.