‘We Wanted to Create an Outlet for People to Show Their Passion for Books’
Todd Lawton and Jeff LeBlanc, childhood friends from Portland, Oregon, founded the company six years ago in Brooklyn, New York, hoping to celebrate the world of books. Lawton, formerly a brand manager at Nike, began with a simple initial thought—virtually everyone owned a T-shirt supporting their favorite musician or athletic team, so why not one supporting their favorite book?
“We wanted to create an outlet for people to show their passion for books,” Lawton says. “There is a misconception about the book business being dead. A reading renaissance is taking place. Books and bookstores are booming.”
After working in finance for years, LeBlanc was ready for a career change, too. The duo launched their online shop on January 27, 2010, the day the iPad was announced and Catcher in the Rye author J.D. Salinger died.
“The timing of our launch was big-time in our favor,” LeBlanc says. “Kindle was around that same time. And on the back-end of the financial crisis, everything was much cheaper in terms of renting an office and such.”
Out of Print had around $1 million in sales its first year. In 2015—now also selling everything from mugs and notebooks to socks and sweatshirts—the company pulled in more than $6 million and has 13 full-time employees. T-shirts still account for half of the overall sales, with actors Emma Watson, James Franco and Kristen Bell having been spotted in one.
“It’s fun checking orders and recognizing some of the names,” Lawton says. “That’s exciting stuff; you never know the readers who are going to be looking to make a statement.”
The majority of the books the company has acquired rights for are out of print, thus the moniker. While they have succeeded in landing nearly every well-known title of the 20th century, one has eluded them: To Kill a Mockingbird. The book’s publishers have not shown mutual interest.
For every item Out of Print sells, a book is donated through various nonprofits—2 million have been donated to date through Books For Africa. This past spring, the company also released Litsy, an app that allows users to share their favorite books, authors, quotes and reading list with others.
“It’s the next big step in our long-term vision,” LeBlanc says. “It’s about promoting reading and sharing those moments based on the books we read. Just like people like to talk about their favorite television shows, they want to talk about the books they are reading.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of SUCCESS magazine.