June 26, 2022

Why book clubs matter in the age of tablets

Publishers have long relied on local book club selections to drive sales. But for independent booksellers, the importance of book clubs to the bottom line has been mixed in recent years, especially with the rise of e-books. Now that print book sales have rebounded, some booksellers are finding that restoring book clubs is helping boost sales even further.

Book clubs continue to be popular. In a 2015 report on the pervasiveness of book clubs, the New York Times estimated that five million Americans belong to one or more. People want to socialize while reading, said Lisa Baudoin of Books & Company in Oconomowoc, Wisc. Like many booksellers, she has built strong relationships with book clubs in her community.

Books & Company regularly hosts three in-store book clubs for adults and provides books to another 40 clubs who sign up at the store for a 15% discount. Twice a year, the bookstore organizes a party with wines and appetizers for the members of its club. During the event, publisher representatives typically pitch a total of 10-15 new and upcoming releases as potential book club picks.

Left Bank Books in St. Louis sponsors eight in-store book clubs and offers a 20% discount to 36 other outside groups. It hosts a semi-annual Reading Group Appreciation event. “This really direct and personal way of interacting with customers who may not be at your counter is very valuable,” said co-owner Kris Kleindienst. “It’s a great way to get known and build loyalty.”

Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina takes it one step further: it hosts a two-day book party twice a year. Last fall’s event drew close to 300 people. The store hosts a dozen book clubs, as well as another 50 registered clubs. As booksellers take turns presenting a total of 16 to 20 titles at the Book Bash, mostly in paperback, the morning crowd munch on coffee and donuts. The store serves wine and cheese during the evening program. “The titles we feature tend to sell out for a while after that,” said managing director Sarah Goddin. “Some book groups get together and select their books on the spot.” Book group orders receive a 21% discount.

Nicole Sullivan’s desire for a cozy place where she could talk about books and sip wine with her own book club inspired her to start the BookBar in Denver three years ago. The store, which offers a simple menu of appetizers, desserts and drinks, has been so successful that it added an additional 800 square feet last fall. Not only does the BookBar offer a 20% discount to any customer purchasing five or more copies of a title, it also offers a 10% discount on bottles of wine at book clubs. On average, five reading groups meet there each day. Once a month, the store hosts a Book Social, which Sullivan described as a “no strings attached book club.” People can mingle over free wine and talk about trending books.

At Subtext in St. Paul, Minnesota, book club sales are so strong that the store maintains separate shelves for two different groups: Books & Bars, an open book club that meets at a nearby bar and is hosted by Jeff Kamin of Minnesota Public Radio. , and a private group, whose members buy together 20 copies of each book selected by the moderator. Additionally, Subtext hosts an in-house club and two outside the store, in a brasserie and in a fitness center.

Cindy Dach, co-owner of Changing Hands in Phoenix, said the First Draft Book Club has helped raise the bookstore’s profile and is “working beautifully.” The book club is hosted by Arizona Republic journalist Barbara Van Denburgh, who chooses hardbacks and paperbacks for her monthly readings. Customers get a 20% discount for hardcover books and 10% for paperbacks. First Draft attracts around 80 people each month, up from 200 at the inaugural meeting in June 2015; regular newspaper articles about Van Denburgh’s choices expanded the store’s clientele.

Although a number of booksellers surveyed observed that over the past few years they have seen book club sales decline as more members download e-books, others report that these losses are compensated by some club members who buy hardcover books. About half of the stores surveyed found that more and more book club members are looking for hardcover editions of best-selling novels such as H is for Hawk and All the light we can’t see, as well as timely documentaries such as Ta-Nehisi Coates between the world and me. “Generally speaking, paperbacks are still the preferred format, but in recent years I’ve seen a lot less resistance to hardbacks because bands just don’t want to wait a year or more for a book. pocket,” said Holly Myers of Elliott. Bay Book Company in Seattle.

Book clubs are important, but as noted by Lisa Gozashti, co-owner of Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., author events have much greater sales potential. “We just had Chuck Palahniuk in our store and sold 400 books,” she said. Booksmith hosts two in-store adult book clubs and a children’s book club, which Gozashti considers more of a community service.

At Left Bank, Kleindienst said book club sales were a “single digit” of total sales. What matters most, she continued, is the idea that a bookstore is “a safe harbor, that third place where you can freely talk about ideas and books.”

According to Ann Berlin of the Ivy Bookshop in Baltimore, which organizes quarterly evenings for its approximately 60 external book clubs, “a lot of [book club members] are regular customers, and they order backlists. She added: “What is important to us is our relationship with our customers. We give people what they want, when they want it.

A version of this article originally appeared in the 08/15/2016 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Why Book Clubs Matter in the Age of Tablets