Today the PW newsletter reported that Bertelsmann had bought out Time Warner's 50% stake in Bookspan, which Time Warner must have acquired with Doubleday at some point. I'm far from an expert on book clubs, but it seems to me that Bookspan has aggregated most of the remaining book clubs of yesteryear under a single banner. Their booksonline site lists "over 30 clubs to choose from", I counted 32, so it's a fair statement. The most famous of these must be the Book Of The Month club that filled American homes with classic history books most of us never read. I think people just couldn't resist getting all those volumes for 99 cents, or whatever their initial come-on offer used to be.
A few years ago, somebody from McGraw-Hill sent me congratulations that the book I authored for them had been selected for a Bookspan club, must have been Computer Books Direct. Unfortunately, I remembered that the book club clause in my contract meant I'd be making about a dime a copy, so I wasn't very pleased. In the end, I think the book club ordered 2,000 copies, which they featured in a "Get 3 Books for $1.99" type membership drive. The one good thing that came out of it was they sent me a poster that must have been used as a magazine foldout, with my title being one of the two featured books blown up large in the center. I think I gave it to my dad.
I wish Bertelsmann luck with their acquisition, the last joint venture I can remember them in went the other way, with Barnes&Noble acquiring Bertelsmann's stake in BN.com. I owned 1,000 shares of BN.com, and thanks to buying them rather late in the game, escaped a few dollars ahead when Barnes&Noble took BN.com private. Unfortunately for Bertelsmann, I have a hard time imagining that book clubs are going to make a comeback, though they might just be cost averaging with their prior acquisition of mail-order the Columbia House music and movies clubs. I remember the Columbia ads from the Sunday circulars when I was a kid, nagging my folks to let me sign up to get 10 records for a penny when I didn't even have a stereo. They didn't go for it, and I never did get a stereo.
I just don't quite understand what market mechanism these clubs are supposed to fill, when Amazon, BN.com, and other mail order booksellers are just a click away. I suppose the X titles for 99 cents or whatever is still a good come-on to get people signed up for the club. But with the declining market share of book clubs, their main attraction to publishers is also fading fast. Publishers used to know, or at least believe, that a book club selection meant lots of free publicity, so they could sell the rights at a minimal profit and benefit from the added sales boost. Without the promotional value, the publishers have little motivation to sell rights for a minimal profit, and the book clubs will find their ability to feature hot new titles limited.
I prefer my own self publishing book club, and you don't even have to sign up to enjoy the low prices. I call it the Lifetime Self Publishing Club. All you have to do to join is buy one of my books at some point during your lifetime, and you'll receive all the benefits of membership. For starters, you can read the book. Later, if you don't want to read it again, you can give it to somebody else or use it to level the kitchen table. There's no obligation to purchase another one of my books during your lifetime, the way I'm going lately I may never publish another. You can even quit anytime without notifying me, and we never sell your name or personal information to list marketers. We don't even ask who you are:-)