Happy Anniversary, Book Of The Month Club

Book of the Month Club advertisementDo you remember the Book of the Month Club? I can recall that my mom was a member when I was growing up. You could initially join by choosing 3 or 4 books from their catalog of bestselling books and authors for the low, low cost of $1 each, IF you agreed to purchase a subsequent minimum number of books (usually 2 more books) at the regular price over a certain time period (usually a year, sometimes 2 years) from their monthly offering that arrived in the mail like clockwork. There was typically a “Featured” book that was priced below the retailer’s price and a small catalog of other books, fiction and nonfiction, that you could peruse.

If you wanted the featured tome you did nothing and you would be sent that offering the following month with a bill for it which included shipping and handling. If you did NOT want the featured book you had to return the enclosed “reply card” to prevent it from being mailed and billed to you. You could also use the reply card to order books from their small monthly catalog.

The Writer’s Almanac provides this history of the Book of the Month Club:

The first Book-of-the-Month Club book was published on this day in 1926. The club was the brainchild of Henry Scherman, a former copywriter for J. Walter Thompson in New York City. He built the idea off of the enormous popularity of the “Little Leather Library,” which he also co-founded. The Little Leather Library was a mail-order venture that published classic books in a small format and bound in cheap leather. Scherman and his partner, Robert K. Haas, wanted to perform a similar service for new fiction.

They devised a plan to send a new book to their subscribers every month. The books were chosen by a Selection Committee, whose names and qualifications were made known to subscribers. The club’s first selection committee included such luminaries as Christopher Morley, Dorothy Canfield, and Heywood Broun. The club targeted a middle-brow demographic; or, as committee chair Henry Seidel Canby described a typical subscriber: “the average intelligent reader, who has passed through the usual formal education in literature, who reads books as well as newspapers and magazines, who, without calling himself a litterateur, would be willing to assert that he was fairly well read and reasonably fond of good reading.”

The first “book of the month” was Lolly Willowes, or The Loving Huntsman, by English novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner. It was about a widow who moves to a town that is involved in witchcraft. The novel wasn’t a huge hit among the club’s original 4,000 subscribers, but that didn’t stand in the way of the venture’s ultimate success. Twenty years later, the subscriber base had grown to 550,000. Membership numbers peaked in 1988, with 1.5 million subscribers; the advent of the Internet and huge chain bookstores spelled its eventual decline.

Were you ever a member of the Book of the Month Club? Give it a shout out in the comments.


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