Audio Book Club's Holiday Message: 'Tis Better to Give Than Receive

Audio Book Club members always were accustomed to making purchases for themselves.

The marketer looked to change that behavior by encouraging something it had never done before, but that would be appropriate for the holidays: club members buying its audio books on CDs and cassettes as gifts for others.

So it avoided the 5 3/8-by-8 3/8-inch format used 17 times yearly in targeting its active customer file in favor of an 8-by-10 3/8-inch, 24-page holiday 2003 catalog with “Give the Gift That Speaks for Itself!” on the cover. The cover also featured the image of ornaments and a gift.

Club members are greeted with a letter occupying all of page 2 that introduces the “Audio Book Club Gift Giving Service,” which includes wrapping “for a small fee of $4.95.” The order form, a first for the marketer, also carries the gift-giving theme with sections for items to be sent to the catalog recipient as well as to another address.

“We wanted it to look and feel different since it's a brand-new communication,” said Magnus Gustafsson, senior vice president of marketing at MediaBay Inc., Cedar Knolls, NJ, which publishes the Audio Book Club catalog. “We wanted it to look more like a traditional catalog. Our standard member catalog rides in an envelope with inserts and other promotional material.”

Circulation for the holiday 2003 book was about 225,000. It mailed Nov. 3.

“We wanted to encourage gift giving by our members,” said John F. Levy, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “People are getting a number of catalogs that encourage gift giving, and we wanted to accomplish the same thing. The reason we went to a full-size catalog was to make it look like other full-size catalogs people receive at this time of year. It had to look like a separate entity so as not to detract from the sales of the smaller catalog. And since it was larger, it was also more clear and attractive.”

Prospecting was not part of the strategy. Active customer file members who were excluded from the mailing included those who had been on the file for more than six months but had bought less than $10 during their membership. They represented 4 percent to 5 percent of the active customer file.

Eighteen percent of those mailed had not made a purchase in the previous three months but had accounted for at least $50 worth of purchases during their membership. The other 82 percent were “good-quality, active customers,” Levy said.

Club members are about 65 percent female with an average age around 45. Average annual household income is roughly $55,000.

“[Our selections] are for those who love to read, but don't have time to read,” Levy said. “They [listen] while multitasking. About 50 percent are played in a car while on a trip. They're also listened to by people who are exercising or doing housework — mainly women who love to read, but their lives are very busy.”

“Value Pricing!” is available in the catalog for items such as “Living History” by Hillary Rodham Clinton ($26), “Four Blind Mice” by James Patterson ($29.98) and “Self Matters, Creating Your Life From the Inside Out” by Dr. Phillip C. McGraw ($26). Other selections include “The Best of Old-Time Radio: Alfred Hitchcock” ($24.98), “The Shadow, Radio's Greatest Man of Mystery” ($34.98) and “Old-Time Radio Famous Westerns” ($24.49).

John Grisham and Stephen King are expected to be among the catalog's best-selling authors.

The bottom of every fourth page noted a toll-free number and Web site, About 75 percent of the book's orders have been generated via the order form being mailed while 15 percent have been realized through the site and 10 percent from orders phoned in.

The average order has been $30 to $35, an amount described as in line with expectations. When asked about the response rate, Levy would not provide specifics other than saying that it's “meeting expectations.”

“We would expect to do this for the holiday season in the future based on its results,” Levy said.

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