Approximately three years after its parent company was acquired by new ownership, the Book-of-the-Month Club has come back to life in a different format. Originally founded in 1926 as a mail-order business, BOMC was relaunched late last year as a monthly hardcover subscription service.
The new BOMC reflects the vision of John Lippman, who acquired its parent company, Bookspan, in late 2012 and set out to create a new business that would appeal to readers who increasingly buy books online. To accomplish that goal, Lippman moved all BOMC members who had been receiving its mail-order catalogue to Bookspan’s Literary Guild club and began building a new BOMC that exists only online. Potential customers receive membership offers through various social media channels and all ordering is done online. Though the club still embraces its mission of helping readers discover great new books, the customer experience has been completely redesigned. On the first of each month, the club’s judges announce five new selections, and each member has until the seventh to choose which one he or she would like to receive as the book of the month.
The judges make their selections after receiving a shortlist of titles from BOMC’s in-house editors, who sift through hundreds of submissions each month to identify potential selections. Current judges include well-known journalists covering books, such as Leigh Haber of the Oprah magazine, Patrik Bass of Essence, and Kim Hubbard of People. Each month the club also features a new celebrity guest judge. Big Bang Theory actress and author Mayim Bialik was the first guest judge (she picked The History of Love by Nicole Krauss), and David Sedaris was January’s guest judge (he selected Ghettoside by Jill Leovy). Lippman said guest judges are chosen for their passion for reading, and he also hopes that their star power “will broaden the discussion around great books.” Readers can sign up for a one-month, three-month or full-year membership, with price incentives for longer subscriptions. All shipping is free.
BOMC was long considered among the most influential players in the book industry. As membership grew over the decades, the club’s selections regularly became national bestsellers, including works by authors such as John Updike, Toni Morrison, and Nelson DeMille. In the early 2000s, the club’s membership began to decline, as the book business shifted online and Amazon gained market share. In looking to reverse the slide, Lippman set out to reposition the company to succeed in e-commerce. In addition to streamlining operations, Lippman, who has a background in finance and the music business, has invested in hiring a strong software-engineering team and has focused on building membership through digital content and social marketing. Though Bookspan today operates 14 different book clubs, BOMC has undergone the most dramatic overhaul.
With the objective of helping readers discover books beyond the bestseller list, BOMC features new and midlist authors. Greer MacAllister, whose novel, The Magician’s Lie, was selected by guest judge Whoopi Goldberg in December, said, “I was blown away to hear that my debut novel was selected for the honor of Book of the Month, and blown away all over again when I heard who had selected it.” Another debut author, Ruth Wariner, whose memoir The Sounds of Gravel was selected in January, said, “It’s so nice to have this kind of support early on... It’s a pretty incredible group of people and writers to be included with, and I feel very fortunate.” Both MacAllister and Wariner will be answering questions in the club’s online discussion board, which is one of the new features offered by the club.
Although he declined to disclose membership figures, Lippman said that the club is growing rapidly. In December, membership more than doubled over November, as subscriptions proved to be popular holiday gifts for readers, Lippman said. “We are proud of the important role Book of the Month has played for 90 years in the industry,” he added. “We are grateful for the strong reception that the relaunched club has received and look forward to continuing our mission of connecting readers, authors, and publishers around great new books.”