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Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Rethinking the future of monthly book club services

You know, I probably should not admit this, but here it goes: I am completely obsessed with monthly subscription boxes.

When you were younger, did you find yourself spending your precious one dollar bill on a brown grab bag full of junk just for the element of surprise? I can still see it now: a paper lunch bag with a big, tempting “?” calling to me, promising that I might get something really good in there. Please tell me I’m not the only one. (After all, isn’t that what makes Woot’s Bags of Crap so darn appealing?)

Anyway, apparently I never grew out of it. I review my bank statements and wonder where all my money has gone; then I remember my Birchbox subscription (beauty/skin care samples), my Julep Maven subscription (I am so addicted to nail polish), my Blissmobox subscription (green, eco-friendly products based on a theme of your choosing), and my most recent subscription purchase, that I actually haven’t received yet, KlutchClub (another new one that focuses on eco-friendly stuff). What am I doing?! There are endless other options out there, but a girl has to have her limits, and I’m already well over mine. If you’re curious to see some of the other ones, here’s a ridiculously extensive list covering a whole range of areas including art, babies, food, clothes, fashion, boxes for men, you name it. But click with caution. (Seriously, I warned you!) These things are popping up everywhere; it seems like there’s a new one coming out every month, and it is a trend that’s taking consumer mailboxes hostage in a really big way.

These boxed services are so successful largely because they go viral so easily. Companies don’t have to do much: the subscribers are doing it for them. Search any one of these things on YouTube or Google; you will see thousands of “unboxing” videos in which people share what they received. You’ll see tons of blog posts and reviews. Some of these companies, like Birchbox, create multiple boxes with varied items so that not everyone gets the same thing. It’s smart. It keeps people coming back for more.

But why am I telling you all of this? Because it reminds me of Book-of-the-Month clubs—clubs that have sort of fallen out of favor in recent years. And I’m wondering if we’re going to see them start coming back with a vengeance. I did a quick search to see what sort of monthly services currently exist. Turns out, there certainly are a few. Here are some examples that I came across with just a cursory search.

There’s GiftLit, where you can buy a three-, six-, or twelve-month subscription to receive books curated by its literary experts. Here’s some additional information you can read on their site:

A book given as a gift should be special. It should stand out. It should be worth keeping. Finding those books is not always easy. That’s why our literary experts comb through hundreds of titles to select the best new books. We like to keep our collections fresh so we update our collections with new books every month.

Another one is Books with Bows, which also has a similar subscription model for hardcovers.

A third? Just the Right Book. And here is some additional information from its site:

Discover books the old-fashioned way: through seasoned booksellers that listen to you. Tell us about your reading habits, hobbies, interests, families—we’ll pick books by today’s top authors and emerging authors that will be Just Right for you. Choose the first book from the selections below, or go to our FictionFinder quiz and our virtual bookseller will make a recommendation.

Just the Right Book will also be incorporating ebooks into its service soon.

Subscription services have come a long way from the “Choose x books for 99 cents!” model, but you know, part of me wonders if this can all be taken one step farther. Books are not quite as instantly consumable as a lip gloss sample, but can you imagine getting a Hunger Games themed box that included a copy of the book, postcards, bookmarks, or some other little related items?

This is just another interesting possibility that could help our discoverability woes. A coupon for an ebook in the box is also an intriguing prospect. And what about bundling some featured shorts/samples to get more exposure for an upcoming author?

Now, I know there are a lot of practical issues I’m overlooking here, but the concept itself is one that I find really interesting and fun. I’d love to see a book box bundled with other non-book items that readers might find useful. I’d love to see cross-promotional partnerships.

So who wants to start this company with me!? Kidding. But in all seriousness, I am curious to hear your thoughts: could this work as an updated approach to selling books? Does it already exist somewhere? And if so, where can I sign up?

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4 comments on “Rethinking the future of monthly book club services

  1. Alexander Hollins
    March 20, 2012

    I’ve been wanting to do this for years at DreamFantastic for years, have several authors serializing content regularly for free , with subscribers getting updates sooner, as well as bonus features. But alas, the few great writer’s I have is not as big a draw as simply a lot writers.

  2. Leah Thompson
    March 20, 2012

    This seems like a perfect idea for ebooks, especially if delivery can be automatic. I don’t think I’d like hardcovers piling up around the house– I don’t always have time to read them– but a surprise ebook on my Kindle would be like Christmas every month.

  3. Sarah 皿 (@dish_chan)
    March 20, 2012

    I think that would be lovely. (Especially if you could get them overseas.) Cross-promotional products (doesn’t OPI or Essie have some Hunger Games themed colors coming out?) or even samples of books, or short story books. An e-book version would be fine, but like the Birchboxes, etc there’s nothing quiet like opening a physical box and finding out what’s inside.

    P.S. I might not recommend a trip to Japan around New Year’s. Fukubukuro would be your downfall. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukubukuro

  4. Erica Hartnett
    March 21, 2012

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Where books are not quite as instantly consumable, I think it would be difficult to make work, but I just love the idea of it anyway. Many of these other services offer a “skip a month” feature or a purchase of a limited number of months, but I wonder if too many people would skip? And Sarah, you are absolutely correct–I am quite sure Fukubukuro would be dangerous for me. 🙂

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This entry was posted on March 20, 2012 by in Business, Opinion and tagged , , .

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