Online Book Club Targets Gays, Lesbians

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Gays and lesbians will gain their first online book club July 17 with the launch of InsightOutbooks.com by Quality Paperback Book Club, part of the 6-month-old Bookspan joint venture of Bertelsmann's Doubleday Direct and Time Warner's Book-of-the-Month Club.


The debut comes as paper-based book clubs saw their share of book sales fall last year to 17.7 percent from 18 percent in 1998, according to new findings from the Book Industry Study Group. At the same time, Internet book sales last year were 5.4 percent, up from 1.9 percent in 1998.


To make InsightOutbooks appealing, Bookspan will eliminate the chief hurdle of book clubs: negative options, or automatic shipment of books each month unless the subscriber sends in a postcard saying no.


"It'll be just as easy to shop on this site as it is on Amazon or barnesandnoble.com, with none of the hassles of traditional book clubs," said Michelle Berger, director of new product development at BooksOnline, the interactive arm of Bookspan, New York.


More importantly, the club is being developed to build community for a demographic underserved by most booksellers.


"We're using books as the connecting element, the common thread that brings the gay and lesbian communities together," said Nisreen A. Shocair, director of online marketing at Bookspan Interactive.


Shocair said each gay and lesbian spends an average of $67 a year on books. But online booksellers haven't done much to gain this market's attention.


"Amazon doesn't even have a subject area on their pull-down menu for gay and lesbian books, which is kind of shocking," Berger said. "Barnesandnoble.com does, but their whole area does not compare with what we're trying to really embrace here."


The site will carry gay and lesbian literature, along with selections of best sellers. More than 250 books will debut at launch, and 25 to 30 new titles will be added each month.


Using classic book club tactics, new members will be offered three books for $1 each. The only commitment is that subscribers must buy at least three books in the next two years. Members also receive discounts of up to 50 percent off publishers' prices.


In addition, InsightOutbooks will allow subscribers to post book reviews, chat with favorite authors, read publishing gossip, access a calendar of events, and post messages on chats and message boards.


Bookspan thought it was natural to ally with sites like PlanetOut.com and gfn.com, both of which will feature InsightOutbooks book club information. In addition, the sites will feature InsightOutbooks information at their booths during this summer's national Gay Pride events.


The relationship with PlanetOut is particularly important. InsightOut is a platinum sponsor, along with Showtime and IBM Corp., of Gay Pride parades organized by PlanetOut in major cities.


"Gay Prides are a phenomenal time to launch a club of this nature, simply because you have an audience that's excited about being gay," said David Rosen, vice president and director at Quality Paperback Book Club, a Bookspan subsidiary that oversees InsightOut. Thirty InsightOut executives will march in an upcoming parade, he added.


In addition, InsightOutbooks will sponsor daily and weekly e-mail newsletters sent to members of PlanetOut, which reportedly has 1.5 million unique visitors each month.


Such collaboration will be accompanied by hard-copy direct mailing to 100,000 names on Quality Paperback Book Club's inhouse file plus rented lists. E-mails also will be sent, and once members sign up, they can expect two e-mails a month: one to promote two to four book titles, and another to inform them about events.


"Loyalty is one of the most significant factors in the gay and lesbian market, and InsightOut is really helping them toward that. It's helping them decide and explore an inner-community loyalty," said Travis Pagel, founder of Osmosis Medialab Inc., which handles InsightOut's marketing communications.


InsightOutbooks is in line with a book club strategy adopted by Bertelsmann to target niches or demographic segments.


Last year, it launched Black Expressions, a book club for African-Americans. The company projected that the club would pull in 5,000 members with the initial mailing, but instead it got 40,000. A second mailing brought the total to 114,000 members.


"It's something that we wanted to do for a long time, and we'll probably be doing it for a lot of other communities," Bookspan's Shocair said, adding that Hispanics were next on the list.
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