Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Only Thing Wrong with Book Clubs is Our Definition

There is nothing wrong with Book Clubs and one could say that the best examples of these are thriving today everywhere we look. That statement may appear to be incorrect to many as they automatically think of the lumbering old Bertelsmann model and others such as the Good Book Guide. What is wrong is not our opening statement but the definition we all automatically assign to the word ‘Book Club’.

In the past book club was a mail order operation that offered a regular catalogue, individual reviews, discount and that famed and that often hated ‘book of the month’. Just as all catalogue based retailers they offered convenience and selection. One of the greatest mysteries of today was why so many failed to migrate to dominate today’s world?

The catalogue of missed opportunities and errors is long and painful but in essence they just failed to understand or see the need to change their model and when they did it was too little to late.

Today Book Clubs are successful and many new models are appearing. Amazon is a book club, Shelfari, BookRabbit are book clubs, Richard and Judy and Ophra are book clubs, Reading Groups are book clubs. We have to break out of thinking and defining Book Clubs as BCA and then saying that they are dead. This is both na├»ve and shows a basic misunderstanding of what ‘clubs’ are and the social and emergence of special interest communities that are thriving today.

However, we here this week of the new Progressive Book Club in the US, that is building itself once again on the old ‘buy three for $1 and commit to four more over two years’ model. The other element of the old model being adopted by them is ‘twigging’ (the focusing on a specific genre or even sub genre). Twigging worked well before the Internet and allowed special interst clubs such as the History Club and the many Bertlesmann clubs to flourish, but was undermined by the broader availability and search and discovery of the Internet. It will work today but only if it is built within a wider community and social network offer which is not based on just buying books. Merely selling a specific genre of book without added value is not wise today. Book buyers are eclectic animals and have often wider and diverse tastes, interests and seek this in their reading material.

We wish the new Progressive Book Club well but we also recognise that they are doing nothing different merely following a well trodden route that is already broken.


Mike Shatzkin said...

I am poltically sympathetic to the Progressive Book Club, so I wish them well, but I couldn't agree more with the sentiment that the 20th century book club model is dead, dead, dead. This project has been a couple of years (at least) in the making and smart people I know who have been involved keep assuring me that various Internet 2.0 devices WILL be employed along with the old negative option push model. We'll see.

But one difference of opinion here. The niche clubs have appeared to work in the 21st century better than the general clubs, perhaps because verticality hasn't really taken hold on the net yet. But the niche clubs don't provide the volume necessary to support these big operations; the economics are phony with big overheads being supported by the model that is collapsing.

Not to play semantic games, the book clubs as we understood them in the 20th century won't work in the 21st. People will continue to cluster around books and book information, and we might CALL that a book club, but it is a different thing entirely.

Martyn Daniels said...

Mike many thanks and i don't disagree with your comment on niche but i believe that niche within a vertical has to be built on more than just books. Niche works great when its community and social.