Business Strategy

Reimagining the Book of the Month Club for This Century

Presented by Columbia Business School

book month club

With more young people reading the old-fashioned way, Jennifer Dwork ’14 relies on social media and content engagement to reach Book of the Month customers.

Raise your hand if you remember the Book of the Month Club. Now raise your hand if you assumed it was a thing of the past or that only technophobes still subscribed because people prefer e-readers and besides, who still reads books anyway? As it turns out, lots of people still read books, and a majority prefer physical rather than digital books; while most readers bounce between formats, a recent Pew Research Center report finds that 38 percent of people read only print books, while only 6 percent exclusively read digital books.columbia-business-school

And Book of the Month (it’s shed the word “The” and doesn’t call itself a “club” anymore) does exist in 2017. Run entirely online, it relies heavily on social media and content engagement, which is run by Jennifer Dwork ’14, the company’s head of content and partnerships. She was recently named to Adweek’s “40 under 40” list for growing Book of the Month’s Instagram account to one of the most-followed in the so-called “bookstagram” world. Below, she talks about who today’s Book of the Month subscribers are and what attracts and keeps them.

Can you give a short history of Book of the Month? 

Book of the Month was founded in 1926 as a mail-order business. The club is known for having helped launch the careers of some of the most acclaimed authors in American literary history, including Ernest Hemingway and J.D. Salinger—The Catcher in the Rye was a Book of the Month Club selection in 1951. We re-launched in late 2015 as an e-commerce subscription service, and we’re now exclusively online at We select five new titles each month and announce them on the first of the month, and members choose which ones they would like to receive. Members also have the opportunity to buy additional books at discount prices.

People think about Book of the Month as being an old-media brand. What makes it work today, despite the popularity of e-readers, the Internet, social media, and everything else?

Young people are reading more books, and more physical books in particular, than you might expect. So much time is spent staring at various screens these days, and a lot of people are looking to unplug and take time for themselves, particularly when it comes to reading. It’s hard to replicate that experience of reading a physical book.

Our members look to Book of the Month to discover their next favorite read or an author that they wouldn’t have otherwise heard about. After a long period of time when algorithms seemed to dominate everything, our team of actual humans — who read through thousands of titles — just does a better job helping our audience find books they truly love. In fact, we have a great panel of judges that includes writers, editors, and bloggers, and we often feature celebrity guest judges.

Some recent guest judges have included chef Anthony Bourdain, actor Allison Williams, and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington.

There seems to be a resurgence of subscription services out there now — for wines, gourmet foods, cosmetics, you name it. How does Book of the Month fit in with this trend, and what makes this subscription model appealing?

Book of the Month was the original subscription service! It’s a model that we’re familiar with, and it lends itself well to physical books since avid readers are always searching for their next great book. I think generally there’s an interest among younger consumers in trying online experiences that go beyond the supermarket-style shopping that online retailers typically offer.

A lot of people are looking to unplug and take time for themselves, particularly when it comes to reading. It’s hard to replicate that experience of reading a physical book.

Who is Book of the Month’s core audience, and what do you think attracts them?

A large majority of our members are young women in their twenties and thirties. And we feature primarily up-and-coming new authors who appeal to these younger readers. For young people who don’t have a lot of time, and who don’t want to scour through hundreds of reviews online, Book of the Month is like a trusted friend with five great book recommendations every month.

What types of things do you do to engage your audience, particularly in the area of social media?

Instagram has been a big part of developing our audience and community. We see so much enthusiasm and creativity from our members — thousands of them post our books and boxes each month, which makes for great pictures. Packaging is a key part of Book of the Month; members receive their selections in beautifully designed boxes with handwritten reviews. The books themselves are brand-new hardcovers for which we print the covers ourselves and add our logo, making it a nice collectors’ item. We have nearly 250,000 followers, and we’re really one of the only consumer brands that celebrate the reading life. We really like reposting content from our members. We also run fun contests every month, which we promote on social media.

We’ve also cultivated a fantastic group of brand ambassadors, who post our book selections on Instagram every month. Our ambassadors include people who are influential in the “bookstagram” community, and they help us in our mission of bringing attention to the best new books.

Social media provides our community with a place to discuss their thoughts on the same books that thousands of other people are reading at the same time. When our members love a book, Instagram allows them to share their love with the world — it’s that feeling of passing along a favorite book to a friend and knowing that they’ll gobble it right up. While the act of reading is a solitary one, the feeling of finding your next favorite book or pulling an all-nighter to finish the last few chapters is something that all readers can relate to, and that’s why I think we’ve seen so much engagement from our audience.

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About the Author

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