Like many of you, I grew up in a household that valued reading. My parents were both avid readers–Mom still is. They read to me every day until I could read to myself. Even then, they’d read me bedtime stories until I became “too old” for it. It wasn’t unusual to find us sitting around in the evenings, book in hand or talking about something we’d been reading. Part of that ritual revolved around the Doubleday Book of the Month Club (or whatever it was called depending on what year/decade it was). For those of you not familiar with it or with “clubs” like it, once a month you received a couple of books in the mail with a little booklet describing the featured books for the next month and other books you could get. It was a way to buy hardcover books at a fraction of the cost, even new releases and it was wonderful.
These books came at a discount. New releases might be 20% or so off list price. Older books were often pennies on the dollar. It was great because it gave people like my father, who wouldn’t go to the library for whatever reason, a chance to try new authors without paying full price for the book. It also gave our family and so many others like us the chance to buy more books with our limited funds. For a family of avid readers, it was heaven in a monthly delivery.
I’ll be honest, I hadn’t thought about those book club deliveries for a while. After all, most of those companies have gone the way of the dodo. They’ve either completely disappeared or their offerings have become too limited or their prices no longer competetive, especially when you have the convenience of Amazon where you can order a book today and have it in your mailbox by the next day.
Then I read an article over at The Passive Voice about similar “book clubs” and how parts of the publishing industry didn’t like them because they were “cannibalizing” the industry. After all, selling a book for less than the cover price would hurt. It would make people think books were priced too high and they might–gasp–want lower prices. How dare they!
Mind you, there were a few voices in the wilderness who recognized that a little cannibalization is good. These voices, like Jim Baen before e-books became a legitimate form of reading, recognized that sometimes you needed to give the reader a taste to get them hooked. In other words, you baited them in and then captured them as readers. With book clubs, you did that by offering books are a lower price than in the stores, hoping then to get the impulse buy from these readers when they were in a physical bookstore. With Jim Baen, it was giving them a free book e-book, often book one in a series, to hook the reader into buying subsequent books in the series and–gasp–other books written by that author..
But traditional publishing didn’t like the idea of one penny less than list price going into their pockets. They forgot the importance of samples to entice a reader. Hell, many of them probably haven’t been to a Costco or grocery store in so long that they’ve forgotten about the vendors handing out samples of food and how those samples will convince you to buy something not on your list. They’ve forgotten the most fundamental of basics when it comes to marketing a product–you have to get a potential buyer interested before they will buy. With books, you do that by offering sample chapters or lowering prices.
Yes, you cannibalize a portion of your profits to make even more money in the long run.
I found so many authors through these mail to your home book clubs. Some of them stayed on my must buy list (even after the book club no longer offered the lowest prices or best selections and I turned elsewhere for my fix). Mysteries and romances, science fiction and fantasy, all were delivered to my home and some still have places on my bookshelves. Others have been replaced with digital copies and reside on my e-reader.
Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, Issac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Leigh Brackett, Agatha Christie and others. Some introduced to me by my parents and their book club subscriptions and others found on my own as I tried out other book clubs and paid with my own money.
As I remember those days, I find myself also thinking about how publishers reacted to Amazon as it gained traction in our changing world. They had the same basic reaction to it, especially when it comes to e-books, as it did to these monthly book clubs. How dare they offer our titles for less than cover price! Anecdotal proof at the very least that publishing execs are of a never-changing mindset, one that has continued to cost them sales over the years, because they fail to look at the long-term bottom line, only the next quarter’s profits.
It is like a bad record repeating itself.
I would give anything to turn the clock back a couple of decades (or more) for just one of those nights when Mom, Dad and I sat around the den reading and talking about books. Or that joy I felt as a kid to open the mailbox and see the brown box from the book club and know there were two or three, sometimes more, new books inside. New chacters to become my friends and new worlds to explore. It was like Christmas every month because my folks always surprised me, never telling me what they ordered.
Okay, part of that was because for a few years they didn’t know I was reading the books as soon as they finished them. Then it became a game. We’d talk about the upcoming selections but they wouldn’t tell me what they decided on. Instead, they’d offer clues and I had to guess. As a marketing scheme to make me want to read, it was great. I’ll admit, sometimes the game was better than the book. But it helped nurture my love of reading, something I have to this day and something I’ve passed on to my son.
So, yeah, a little cannibalization is good–if done right. Unfortunately, traditional publishing has never learned that lesson and is suffering because of it. As a reader, I’m thrilled others have learned it and we now have a thriving small press and indie publishing alternative we can turn to.
Now for a bit of promotion. Rogue’s Magic, Book 3 of the Eerie Side of the Tracks series, is now available for pre-order. Release date is August 18th.
Trouble comes to Mossy Creek.
Jaqueline “Jax” Powell left town after high school, wanting to put as many miles between small town Texas and herself as possible. Mossy Creek, however, isn’t your normal small town and once it gets its hooks in you, you never really escape. It has already brought home two of its wayward children. Will Jax be the third?
When her best friend and “sister from another mister”, Annie Caldwell, is attacked and left for dead, Jax wastes no time in returning home. But is Mossy Creek ready for her return? Before long, everyone will remember why she’d been called “the rogue” growing up. An Earth Elemental, she will join with Wind and Fire to protect those they love.
As storm clouds gather over the small town, danger grows. Jax will have to use all her gifts as an Other to keep her friends safe.
But will it be enough?