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Bertelsmann Book Clubs Target Web via Zooba.com

Bertelsmann is using the recent acquisition of e-mail marketer Zooba.com to introduce a global “marketing offensive” for its book clubs.

“We're betting on expansion of our specialty clubs, stronger use of the Internet and e-mail marketing, and a uniform IT platform,” Klaus Eierhoff, head of DirectGroup Bertelsmann, told a press conference at the Leipzig book fair last month.

“We want to reach all of our 40 million club members in every way possible and to do so with products that exactly correspond to their interests — that's the demand I am making on DirectGroup's multichannel strategy,” he said.

Zooba, Eierhoff said, gives the book clubs “the most modern form of e-mail marketing in order to build their communities — personalized e-mails with editorial content, entertainment, information and product offers.”

Zooba, Boston, already has 2.3 million subscribers to its 48 content sites. Eierhoff said he would use the company to boost membership in Bertelsmann's 50 U.S. specialty clubs and then plans to launch Zooba in Europe.

While no date has been set for bringing Zooba services to Europe, Eierhoff plans to use Bertelsmann anchor clubs in the United Kingdom and France — BCA and France Loisir, respectively — to expand existing specialty clubs or to launch new ones.

The Internet would become an even more important part of the marketing mix for the European clubs than it is in the United States, Eierhoff said.

“Zooba is a real value-added machine for our clubs because we can offer our members information cut exactly to their interests, and thus mesh our club business more closely with the Internet and its possibilities,” he said.

Bookspan, a joint venture between Bertelsmann and Time Inc., has already begun to integrate Zooba.com into the activities of its 50-odd clubs. With 13 million unique visitors, it is one of the leading vendors in the online book trade.

“Bookspan already gets 30 percent of its new members via the Internet,” said Markus Wilhelm, who runs the company's English-language book clubs, “and the targeted approach to Zooba subscribers will increase their number.”

Bertelsmann bought Zooba last December, taking over 100 percent of outstanding shares for cash. Sharon Collin, Zooba's spokeswoman, said she could not reveal the sale price. Bertelsmann is privately held.

Zooba was founded in October 1999. At the time of the sale, it was looking for a second round of funding, she said.

Zooba is a free opt-in service in which people can sign up to receive e-mails on various topics each week, Collin said.

“People normally subscribe for more than one topic, and that accounts for our sending out roughly 6 million e-mails a week,” she said. “The e-mails are vehicles for marketing books, CDs and other products.”

Some of Zooba's e-mails are sponsored, Collin said, and the site also has affiliate agreements with merchants. For Bertelsmann clubs, the e-mails are used to attract new members and to promote specific club products. People who get military history e-mails, for example, are offered membership in Bookspan's military history club.

Zooba's weekly content e-mails also will be used as a loyalty-building tool. In addition, Zooba will work for Bertelsmann as an e-mail marketing service provider.

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