In 1947, in the midst of post-war austerity, The Folio Society was launched by Charles Ede to bring aesthetic pleasure to book lovers.
The war, in which Ede had served as an officer in the Royal Tank Regiment and then in the army’s intelligence corps, had seen paper rationing. Academics researching the journals and magazines of that time will confirm how inferior was the paper used. You have to treat those texts very gently now, as if they dated from pre-modern times.
The Folio Society was a membership-based book club until 2011. Previously a private company, it has been an employee-owned trust since 2021.
Its goal has always been to produce illustrated hardback editions of already published books, on high-quality paper and usually bound in buckram. Slip cases are normally used to protect the books.
Mark Mainstone, technology and business services director at The Folio Society, says that, with the advent of the internet and electronic publishing more widely, “there was a fear that publishing was going to be going in the wrong direction”.
“But we’re seeing it completely going the other way,” he adds. “People want to have that special book, or special versions of their favourite books, done beautifully in a way that we can do.”
Mainstone, who also worked for 14 years in a range of roles, from sales and marketing to IT, at Direct Wines, was brought in originally as a consultant to The Folio Society four years ago, joining formally in 2021.
His career has included stints in India for Direct Wines and as an IT director at Unipart, managing outsourced IT delivery and software teams.
“I gained a lot of experience [in India], running and working in outsourced environments, offshore environments, and just the whole experience that you get with any business, but setting up in a country such as India – which is very vibrant in all sorts of ways – comes with its challenges,” he says.
At The Folio Society, Mainstone encountered IT systems that looked antiquated, adding: “Their systems were very old, green screen and not talking to each other. Everything was manual. They brought me in to source a new system that would integrate and reduce complexities, improve efficiencies and understand what was going on in the business, in terms of the analytics, the KPIs [key performance indicators] and so on.
“We went through a whole selection process. Based on the business needs and the size of the business, we found NetSuite was the best thing to go for. And we did a lot of workshops to make sure the business saw how easy it would be to implement if they kept to the way NetSuite operates.”
As a result, The Folio Society ended up with less than 5% of bespoke configuration, he says, which “was a revolution for the business – it reduced so much complexity into simple processes”.
That system is for handling all the financial processes of The Folio Society’s business, but a new system is being regarded for the production of the books themselves too. “I can’t say what that will be just now, but it will integrate with NetSuite,” adds Mainstone.
Book production is a complex process, and Mainstone says there can up to 20 different suppliers: “It’s like an orchestra, essentially. Each book is months and years in the making.”
The Folio Society is well known for publishing “classics”, but it also publishes Ian Fleming’s Bond books and George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones sequence, while Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series and his other stories are a staple.
Choosing the tech
So, why Oracle NetSuite as a technology choice?
Mainstone confirms the company looked at Microsoft Dynamics and at Salesforce, but found they weren’t focused on customer relationship management (CRM).
“We were focused on ERP [enterprise resource planning]. But we had a chat with [Salesforce] nonetheless, because we wanted to see what they could do,” he says.
“I’m very much someone who wants to find the right tool for the right job. And sometimes you want to make sure, especially with such strong integration these days, that you have the right tool to provide the best service to your customers and to provide the best solution for the business.”
The Oracle NetSuite partner The Folio Society used was Sansa Solutions. “They were brilliant. When you’re putting in an ERP, which I would never recommend to do in a pandemic, you need that,” says Mainstone.
“We were hoping to go live in the spring of 2020, but we decided to put a pause on the project because the business needed to know what was going to happen as a result of the pandemic from a sales point of view. But we were very fortunate as an e-commerce business.”
“If people have those special books, the books they grew up with, they want to fill their bookshelves with these beautiful books”
Mark Mainstone, The Folio Society
He says the business kept the project going remotely. “We wrote standard operating procedures so that people could take them away and learn in their own environment, which was just such a massive winner,” he adds.
“And then, when the lockdown started to lift a few months later, we managed to do socially distanced work in the office, in different corners. We went live in September 2020, but we managed to do all that remotely.”
The project team consisted of two consultants and around half a dozen people from The Folio Society.
“If there’s a good time to go live, it’s at the beginning of the financial year because you’re cutting off financials in one system and opening up a new system,” says Mainstone.
Part of the reason for the shift to NetSuite was to subserve The Folio Society’s international business. Some 70% of sales come from overseas, says Mainstone. “We’re continuing to grow in those markets, especially in the US – we’ve just scratched the surface there. Growth in the US is one of the things that NetSuite is going to help us [achieve],” he adds.
“We feel that people have fallen in love with books again, starting before the pandemic. We all know there was another boom in e-commerce during the pandemic, but we already saw a real shift upwards of people wanting to buy hardback editions.
“There’s a difference between that and using a Kindle to read an everyday book you might want to read on the beach. If people have those special books, the books they grew up with, they want to fill their bookshelves with these beautiful books,” he concludes.
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