November 25, 2022

Book Clubs Thrive in the Internet Age


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The book club may have been around for hundreds of years, but in 2018 it’s succeeding in multiple ways.

Which makes sense: book clubs fit in well with today’s online world. They become more profitable as they evolve, and the Internet promotes the creation of audiences. Any influencer followed on social media, their podcast, or an email newsletter is perfectly placed to deliver an ebook recommendation at the click of a mouse. Granted, the book itself is usually physical, but that’s the other factor driving the rise of book clubs: In a world of Netflix and mobile gaming frenzy, cracking the back of a physical book has become a treat.

The form of media at the heart of a book club may be less popular than television as a whole, but it simply enhances the experience of reading a curated book each month from a trusted source. Book clubs are another spoke in the subscription economy, an Internet model that has worked for everyone from the Dollar Shave Club to Birchbox to The New York Times. The subscription e-commerce market has actually grown more than 100% year-over-year over the past five years, with the largest retailers in the market making sales in excess of $2.6 billion in 2016, compared to just $57.0 million in 2011.

And on top of all that, running a book club is just plain cool. Being bookish is a way of life for the niche audience these clubs serve.

From celebrities to micro-influencers

Hello Sunshine, actor and entrepreneur Reese Witherspoon’s Instagram-powered book club, launched informally in 2015, has over 800,000 followers and is hugely influential. books like The Alice Network and Small fires everywhere became bestsellers after being shown. Hello Sunshine is more than a book club, though: the media company is adapting Small fires everywhere for Hulu, has other TV projects underway at NBC and Apple TV, is creating a movie at TriStar/Sony Pictures, and has a multi-year partnership with Audible for monthly audiobook picks.

Other celebrity-run book clubs include Between Two Books by Florence Welch, Our Shared Shelf by Emma Watson, and Belletrist, by Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss. Themed book clubs or book-centric subscription boxes are also taking off without the need for celebrity power: WILDWOMAN, which launched in August, aims to provide a subscription box that includes a self- non-fiction assistance each month. Homemade micro-influencer book clubs can be found all over social media, especially Instagram, where the hashtag #bookstagram has 26 million posts and counting.

Some book clubs emerged from media newly invested in book coverage; Examples include Now Read This from PBS NewsHour and The New York Times or the BuzzFeed Book Club, which just launched in October 2018. These clubs provide expert book recommendations, a common Facebook group chat room and, in the case of Buzzfeed, Amazon affiliate links that offer Buzzfeed a pot -of wine for each book purchased.

Affordable book clubs are also available

Perhaps the best indicator of the importance of book club is the rise of the affordable alternative. The traditional book club may be a retreat into a community of like-minded book lovers, but at an average of $25 per hard copy, that’s not accessible. Low-budget book clubbers will have to wait for long library wait times, assuming they have the free time to visit a physical library.

A great book club resource just launched last month to address that need: digital lending service Hoopla Digital is partnering with public library systems to bring a catalog of 670,000 ebooks to library patrons, and its new Book Club Hub puts a curated selection of titles within reach of anyone with a smartphone. The resource offers a core book selection and eight additional recommended titles each quarter, allowing all small community book clubs to choose their favorite. All titles are available through Hoopla as free digital downloads for their more than 1,600 public library partners across North America, plus a kit of digital reading group materials and, in select locations, live author events.

“Hoopla set out to modernize the book club experience — redefining what a book club can be,” says the service’s content strategist, Tara Carberry, who led the club’s program and research. “Even in the digital age, no book club model could provide a complete and truly accessible experience. It inspired us to create our own reading community: a hub that removes barriers to reading and connecting with other readers around today’s most compelling headlines.”

Carberry agrees that book clubs are on the rise, attributing it partly to the culture of celebrity book clubs and partly to the unique community the clubs attract. “Book clubs are really having a moment right now, and we don’t expect that moment to fade in the near future,” she says. “What was traditionally a local gathering of neighbors is now its own culture. It’s on social media, it’s in the office, it’s part of our daily conversations.”

In 2019, book clubs will be big

Interest from book clubs is unlikely to die off anytime soon, and certainly not in the next few months. The holiday season is a great time to join a book club, especially as the New Year approaches. “January and February are historically among our strongest months in terms of eBook and audiobook sales,” says Carberry. “New Year’sesolutions to read more, connect more, spend less – joining a book club is a resolution for readers of all skill levels and abilities.”

In 2018, the general public grew tired of the constant churning of online news and preformative social media. According to the Pew Research Center, mMore than a quarter of adult US Facebook users have deleted the app from their phones in the past year.

It seems that 2019 will mark a shift towards the common space and the physical comfort of the book club. Or, as Carberry puts it, “taking an hour a month for a book club is a satisfying and rewarding outing that more and more people are enjoying.” Between celebrities, media critics, micro-influencers and accessible digital offerings from Hoopla, wwe will have a surprisingly successful group of various types of book clubs to choose from.