August 18, 2022

Publishers are developing strategies to connect with book clubs

BooknBrunch connects book club hosts with venues (Katherine Holland)

Reading a book a week is nothing unusual for Girly Book Club members. With more than 100,000 members worldwide, the Toronto-born group is the world’s largest network of in-person book clubs.

While the club votes each month for a title each member will read (March’s pick was Christina Dalcher’s dystopian sci-fi novel Voice), members often share their favorites beyond these official GBC picks. “It’s like micro-influence,” says GBC founder Erin Woodward.

Woodward has launched a unique partnership between these engaged super readers and publishers willing to woo them: the Book Love Club, which offers members four or five books a month from publishers who have paid to join. The for-profit program will launch in Canada in April with participation from Simon & Schuster and Harlequin.

“You could spend all the advertising dollars in the world, and it still doesn’t make as much sense as your friend telling you, ‘You have to read this book,’” says Craig Swinwood, CEO of Harlequin and HarperCollins Canada.

Book club membership is on the rise. BookNet Canada’s November 2019 study, “Reading Together: Book Clubs in Canada,” found that 7% of book buyers belonged to a book club in 2018. Last year, that statistic doubled to reach 14%. And book club members are ready to hear from publishers, with 56% saying the reason they joined a book club was to get exposure to new books.

“Our community is exactly who [publishers] want to have a relationship with, and we’re the hotline for that,” says Daniela Kelloway, co-founder of BooknBrunch, a group that connects book club hosts with venues, via its website or app. . Each month, the BooknBrunch team offers you four books. Although hosts are free to choose any book they want, Kelloway has found that BooknBrunch members are eager to accept their suggestions.

Last fall, when Kelloway and her co-founder, Zuzana Drakul – who is also Kelloway’s sister – held BooknBrunch events in cities across Canada, they selected the memoirs of Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes, like the book they would talk about. “All these people in these towns went out and bought Year of Yes show up at our event,” she says. “When I say this book, our community listens.” The sisters launched a first round of funding to raise capital to expand the program, which is already active in 40 cities in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Penguin Random House Canada has chosen to run its own book club, highlighting popular Penguin titles such as Michelle Obama To become and Kiley Reid Such a fun age. Members meet for a monthly live chat on Penguin’s @penguinrandomca Twitter account using the hashtag #PenguinBookClub.

For her November selection, Thea Lim’s An ocean of minutes, Penguin hosted an event at its downtown Toronto headquarters that included an onstage interview with the author. “We see it as a valuable way to connect directly with our readers and hear what they’re reading and how they, in the book club, choose what they want to read,” says Kaitlin Smith, head of advertising and marketing for paperbacks and audio books. The PRHC also connects with local book clubs by sharing free copies, hosting author appearances and providing marketing materials.

The Toronto Public Library, Canada’s largest library system, welcomed 14,800 members in 100 book discussion groups in 2019. Library shoppers consider publishers’ recommendations for titles that might be popular with various book clubs.

Gail MacFayden, one of the librarians in charge of TPL’s reader services department, said a book club in the Yorkville branch was delighted to have a publisher representative attend their event. “They loved hearing, ‘This would be a great book for your book club,’” she says. Last fall, the system hosted an event for all book clubs in the system to come together to hear authors Alicia Elliott and Carrianne Leung speak. Publisher representatives from Penguin Random House Canada and House of Anansi Press also spoke to the crowd of 300 about their upcoming books. “They wanted a list of titles that editors were talking about and they were taking notes,” says Diana So, who also runs Reader Services.

While library systems are teeming with members engaged in book clubs, the library has a mandate to ensure that a variety of publishers participate in order to avoid the appearance of patronage. However, programming multiple editors can be difficult. So thinks it would be more achievable “if the staff knew which publishers are ready to come.”

Simon & Schuster Canada vice-president of marketing and advertising, Felicia Quon, says that in addition to teaming up with the Girly Book Club, the publisher is exploring other partnerships. S&S includes links on its website to authors open to book clubs and organizes book club chats and contests on its social networks.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for publishers to nurture these connections is the potential for exponential impressions. Smith of PRHC says that when you establish a relationship with a book club, the marketing message doesn’t just seep into one club. “If they read a book and like it and reach out to their wider network, it just has this multiplier effect.”