Book Clubs Are Really Having a Moment Right Now
First came the book recommendations. Now come the book club recommendations.
It’s not just Oprah Winfrey or even your friends trying to coordinate a suitable date on a never-ending reply-all Gmail thread anymore. Book clubs are more popular than ever, with bookworms meeting up through more and more social media-based communities moderated by publishers, celebrities, popular newsletters, and even “influencers.”
While book clubs themselves are nothing new and a rather old school version of socializing, there has been a proliferation as of late for book clubs as a method for connecting with readers (a.k.a. consumers) while boost branding, whether it be for a company or personality. With some book clubs being advertised on city subways and even national TV shows, lucrative opportunities are ripe for marketers, publishers, and authors.
But will this new wave translate into book sales? A few of the book clubs on this list are seasonal, so some titles might see a bump at the end of the summer. It can also be difficult to distinguish a bump in sales for a particular title if it is already being buzzed about at the moment, thus why it was the moderator’s pick for the week, month, or season.
As for why readers are gravitating toward these newer book clubs, there could be many answers, including socializing habits shifting progressively online and away from meeting up IRL (translation: in real life), doubling down on personal branding themselves in demonstrating their reading interests, or even just the desperate desire to escape real world news more now than any point in recent history.
This is not an end-all list of book clubs in the slightest, but if you’re looking for a new read and a place to chat about it later that doesn’t require you to bring a side dish, here are some options to consider.
The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon
Book clubs and late night shows might not seem like an obvious combination, but when you think about it, they actually have a lot in common. Typically, book clubs are reserved for evening meetups, either over food or drinks (or both), as a way to unwind from the day while also discussing something that entertained you (or not, which sometimes is even more fun to discuss). Some of that could be said about late night shows in that evening programming is supposed to be light, frothy, and help viewers unpack a bit before heading off to bed. (Even though many more viewers watch clips at odd hours throughout the day now.)
Jimmy Fallon, who has written a few books himself, decided to combine the two with the announcement at the end of June that he was launching a summer book club. Fallon presented five titles, all of which are surging in buzz at the moment, but the host said he hasn’t read any of them yet. Thus, Fallon invited viewers to vote online and via social media with their pick, and after receiving more than 100,000 votes, Fallon announced the club’s first read for the month of July last week. (And in a further show of democracy, the Tonight Show even posted the voting results.)
An NBC representative told Fortune that since Fallon announced winner Children of Blood and Bone on June 29, the book jumped to #1 on Amazon’s Best Sellers list by the following day. (It had previously been hovering around #287.)
Fallon and his show have been heavily reliant on Twitter and Instagram in the past for sketches, so it’s no surprise that social media will play a huge part in coordinating the book club as well. Book club participants can follow along and share their thoughts to Twitter with the hashtag #TonightShowSummerReads.
Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine
As part of her ever-expanding media empire, Reese Witherspoon also has a book club, which does an admirable job of promoting female authors from a multitude of backgrounds, whether it be ethnicity, religion, or socio-economic. Witherspoon promotes a new selection each month, with a full introduction conducted herself through Instagram Stories. Readers can follow along and chime in on both Instagram and Facebook (FB).
Under the umbrella of Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine media brand, which describes itself as dedicated to storytelling and creating content celebrating women, the book club often gets the authors involved as well, either through interviews on these social channels or Q&As and other features posted to the book club’s website.
PBS might win for most comprehensive—not to mention ambitious—reading program of the moment. Titled “The Great American Read,” the public broadcaster is producing an eight-part series (including a two-hour pilot) as told through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved novels, which were chosen in a national survey conducted in partnership with YouGov. Approximately 7,200 people responded to champion their most-loved novels. And while “American” is in the title of the series, that doesn’t limit how people can respond. PBS ended up with a list that had a wide range of locations, authors, time periods, and genres. Truly the only requirement was that the nominated works had to be works of fiction. The voting period for whittling that list down even further is still open through October, and readers can vote via app or social media. The winner will be revealed in the last episode of the series later this year.
PBS is encouraging each reader to open their mind’s eye and find a new literary love, too. The Great American Read has a book club running on Facebook with nearly 33,000 members to date. The network also posted the top 100 list for perusal (and voting) while also offering a nifty PDF print-out for zealous bookworms.
City Book Clubs
There are book clubs among your neighbors…and then there’s a book club for your entire city. For the second year in a row, the Mayor’s Office of New York in league with New York magazine is conducting “One Book, One New York.” Before school was out and summer even got started (although the humidity might have already set in), the program put five books up for nomination, advertising the choices everywhere from your TV screens to subway platforms. Each of the books are based in one of the five boroughs, but each tells a dramatically different story in New York. Participants are certainly encouraged to share thoughts via social media, but in the grand old tradition of book clubs, there will be many in-person events hosted throughout the city. After all, maybe nowhere is better for discussing books than at the library—just keep your voices down.
Newsletter-Based Book Clubs
Much like book clubs, newsletters are also experiencing a renaissance. A handy way to keep readers hooked while also churning out more content is the establishment of a book club. This can also help newsletters with amping up their respective brands, promoting works and authors reflective of their audience’s interests. Girls’ Night In, a newsletter curated around wellness for young professionals with approximately 100,000 readers since launching in January 2017, has a grassroots-style book club in that the newsletter editors organize in-person meetups in major cities, while relying on its Facebook community for recruiting hosts each month. Interested hosts can also apply online through the newsletter’s website. The book club meetups are really full-fledged experiences, not only doubling as networking opportunities, but the catering partnerships (think fast-casual salad chain Sweetgreen and vegan burger favorite byCHLOE) also reflect the image for which the newsletter is striving.
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GNI BROOKLYN BOOK CLUB 〰️ Thanks for coming out last night to discuss The Female Persuasion! 〰️ D.C., Austin, Alexandria, and Manhattan – see you tonight! 👯♀️📚 To stay up to date about our book club meetups, sign up for our weekly newsletter (link in bio). We love fostering conversation and community over a good book. #GNIreads
Book picks promoted through newsletter book clubs can also translate into book sales as well. SkimmReads, the book club for female-centric newsletter The Skimm, has reportedly driven interest for its choices up by thousands of spots on Amazon’s Best Sellers list (AMZN).
The Today Show
Not so much a book club as a list of suggestions, NBC’s Today show anchors promoted their list of summer reading picks on the air on Monday morning. And while it seems like there are more book clubs than ever, maybe there’s a misconception here about the state of reading (and thus, the state of the book publishing industry).
Today correspondent Jenna Bush Hager cited a Pew Research Center study finding that 76% of U.S. adults say they have read a book in the last year, which is actually down from 79% in 2011. Hager, the daughter of former librarian Laura Bush, said that finding inspired her and the show’s editorial staff to launch the “Read More TODAY” series. There aren’t too many more details available at the moment, except that interested audience members can sign up for updates via email.