Despite its sale by the Bertelsmann Group to Najafi Companies last year, Bookspan’s 21 book clubs (including Book-of-the-Month Club, Doubleday Book Club, Quality Paperback Club, and Literary Guild) still exist. Given the company’s tumultuous past few years, how has it held up? (For news on other book clubs, click here.)
Numbers don’t mean everything, but a few are in order. At its height, BOMC had over a million members. While Bookspan would not release its official membership numbers, insiders tell us that the Doubleday Book Club (once as high as 2 million members), BOMC (1 million members at its height), and Quality Paperback Club (once nearly a million members) have shrunk by as much as 75%. In total, we learned, the 21 clubs under the Bookspan umbrella have fewer than 5 million members.
There has been some confusion over whether the clubs are retaining their “negative option” models, in which members receive the Main Selection unless they opt out. In January, since-disavowed Bookspan affiliate BookClubsOnline.com, which sold Bookspan memberships through its site, announced that Bookspan was dropping the negative option (see PT 02/09). VP and Editorial Director Sharon Fantera denied the claim in an industry e-mail (quoted on Publishers Lunch). She stated that while the clubs had always had a few “positive option” members, most would remain negative option. BookClubs-Online.com’s unauthorized press release was pulled from PR Newswire and Bookspan appears to have severed relations with the company.
However, the original news appears to have been correct: Sub rights directors told us Fantera recently informed them that Bookspan will indeed be switching over to a positive option model for all new members.
Like PBC and CBC, Bookspan aims to build the sense of community among its members. “All of our clubs have websites, and we’re working hard to include as many author bios, book excerpts, audio and video clips, and podcasts as possible,” Fantera told PT in an e-mail exchange. “These extras will keep a member engaged and feeling like part of a club with other people who share a similar interest. We’re always looking for new ways to bring the readers and the authors closer together.”
Bookspan is also working to promote new books by unknown authors to its members. In early 2008, the company developed the National Blue Ribbon Book for the Literary Guild, BOMC, and Doubleday. The first book selected for the program was debut novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which included a blue ribbon bookmark and letter to club members from coauthor Annie Barrow. Bookspan has since released two more Blue Ribbon books, one of which was Penguin’s The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
Penguin SVP Leigh Butler says though Bookspan clubs’ individual identities were watered down when high-advance titles had to be offered through all the clubs, they are now reclaiming their separate niches and sales. The clubs’ editors “have a really good eye, they are working to improve their margins, and they listen.” Harlan Coben’s voice can be heard on Bookspan’s customer service line. These efforts are paying off, and Butler continues to handle club rights herself because, as she says, Bookspan “represents a considerable part of Penguin Group USA’s bottom line.”*
*CORRECTION APPENDED: Butler points out that Bookspan represents a considerable part of Penguin subrights revenue, not a considerable part of total Penguin revenue. We regret the error.