Podcast: The first rule of book club is tell us all about your book club

This month we're talking about book clubs. But not the kind where you pretend to read the books and just drink wine – real book clubs. We're bringing you some stats on Canadian book clubs: who's in them, how they find their books, and more. We also take a look at the popularity of celebrity book clubs. And lastly we talk to Randy Chan, senior marketing manager at Harlequin, who talks to us about the importance of book clubs to publishers and how they find and reach out to them.

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All the stats 

We want to make sure you didn't miss a stat, so here's the transcript of this week's episode:

Zalina Alvi: According to our most recent surveying of Canadian book buyers, 7% of adult Canadians who bought a book in the last month belong to a book club. On average, these book buyers purchase 2.4 books a month whereas buyers who aren't in a book club buy 2.1 per month.

Ainsley Sparkes: When we look at readers generally, not just those who purchased a book, we find that 28% of readers belong to a book club or reading group. And 8% of readers said that they discovered their most recent book purchase through a book club. Of those readers who belong to a book club, 7% said that they participate daily, with 25% participating 1-3 times a month, and 45% participating less than once a month.

ZA: So these aren't your average readers. They're an important part of the book supply chain, whether you're a librarian, a publisher, or a retailer, which explains why there are so many great initiatives in the industry with the express goal of reaching book clubs.

AS: The task of reaching these readers continues to be an evolving art form, though. Our data shows that while 68% of book-buying book club members meet in-person, 34% meet exclusively online. Which could have a lot to do with BookTubers, communities like Goodreads, and celebrity book clubs, particularly those hosted on platforms like Instagram.

ZA: Celebrity book clubs are the new celebrity lifestyle site. Almost everyone has one: Bill Gates, Emma Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, Emma Watson, Florence of Florence and the Machine, Lena Dunham, and the list goes on. With varying degrees of frequency and online discussion, they're not all your typical book clubs, but they all drive sales for their picks.

AS: Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss's Instagram book club Belletrist has 188,000 Instagram followers. They choose one official book per month, but they also profile celebrities who share their favourite and most-anticipated books (complete with Amazon buy links), these celebrity profiles also include their favourite products, articles and podcasts. Placing the books at the centre of a whole lifestyle profile.

ZA: Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine Book Club announces a book a month, but Entertainment Weekly notes that "While Witherspoon’s club started as an informal social media endeavour, it’s now a formal arm of her production company Hello Sunshine." 

AS: Maybe the celebrity book club closest to what we traditionally think of as a book club is Emma Watson's Our Shared Shelf. It's hosted on Goodreads where the club picks a book every two months and discussion is a big part of the club. Currently there are 220,000 members.

ZA: But no one can top Oprah's book club for sales, which we've proven several times over on our blog the last few months. With almost 15 million Instagram followers and more than 41 million Twitter followers, she chooses books when the mood strikes her and the industry jumps to reprint and restock.

AS: Jumping down to a more manageable level of celebrity status, BookTubers, which are YouTube personalities who talk about books, also have book club offerings.

ZA: They bridge the gap between in-person clubs and online book clubs that are structured around written discussion. BookTubers choose books and talk about them in their videos. Community members can reply in the comments or with their own videos. Some clubs even compile the video responses in a helpful playlist so you can watch them all.

AS: But how does the average book club member select the books for their club discussions? Personal recommendations are at the top of the list — 88% of book buyers who belong to a book club say they use personal recommendations often or sometimes. Bookseller recommendations and library recommendations are also quite influential, with 75% and 69% using them often or sometimes, respectively.

ZA: These book buyers also pay attention to literary awards. They're most familiar with the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, with 66% saying they're either very or moderately familiar with the award. 62% are familiar with the Scotiabank Giller Prize and 61% know about the Governor General's Literary Awards. Canada Reads and the Man Booker Prize for Fiction were close behind, tied at 59%.

AS: So how are libraries, retailers, and publishers reaching out to these readers? Lots of bookstores host book clubs at their locations, and it's pretty common for libraries to do the same and to offer bundled loans so book clubs can get multiple copies at once.

ZA: To learn a bit more about how publishers are reaching out to book clubs and marketing to them, Ainsley chatted with Randy Chan, senior marketing manager at Harlequin to tell us a bit about how they do it.

Interview with Randy Chan

ZA: If you know of any other interesting book club initiatives happening at your company or in your community, please let us know in our blog comments. 

AS: You can also read our latest report, called #AmReading: Canadian Book Buyers on Instagram, which touches on celebrity book clubs hosted on that platform along with lots of other information on how publishers and retailers can reach readers through Instagram and the demographics and buying habits of Instagram-using book buyers. It's available on our website and we'll link to a sample in the show notes.

ZA: Thanks to Randy for joining us for this month's episode, and to the Government of Canada for their support through the Canada Book Fund.

AS: And, of course, thanks to you for listening.

Further reading

Here are links to some of the things we mention in the episode:

How celebrity book clubs are changing the literary world for good

#AmReading: Canadian Book Buyers on Instagram

Who can dethrone Oprah? blog series