Bertelsmann-owned mail-order giant Doubleday Direct Inc. will tackle the threat from Internet booksellers by stepping up its online presence as it launches more book clubs in the U.S. market.
“The overall goal is to reinvent the book club business using the Internet as a platform,” said Seth Radwell, president/CEO of Doubleday Interactive, New York.
Paper-based mailings, audience-specific Web sponsorships, telemarketing, banner ads, and targeted e-mail campaigns will trumpet the arrival of the new clubs. The start-ups will focus on niche categories that target African Americans, women and fitness enthusiasts.
The dual offline and online push should help Doubleday reach its goal of enrolling half a million new online subscribers this year from existing clubs and new entrants. But it will be an uphill task in a mail-order book market that has plunged 26 percent from a peak of 105 million copies in 1993, according to the Book Industry Study Group. To date, Doubleday has over 5.5 million active members on file.
“Overall, book sales are fairly flat, so we've got to find more creative ways of marketing books,” said Radwell. “Online book clubs is a good way of doing that.”
Radwell sees three tasks ahead of him. First, to take Doubleday's existing clubs and launch them online. Next, create new clubs that are more targeted to niche audiences with access to the Internet. And, finally, to make all the bookseller's products more interactive with online polls, chats and bulletin boards.
New clubs are at the heart of Radwell's plan. Black Expressions (blackexpressions.com), a club aimed at the African American community will feature books on faith, fitness and relationships; Venus (venusbookclub.com), an adult club for women will focus on relationships and intimacy. The clubs will debut next month.
Oasis (oasisbookclub.com) will be next, with literature for women focused on mind, body and spirit. It will launch in February 2000, a month before Mango (mangobookclub.com), which, like its month-old British counterpart, targets women in their 20s and 30s with a list of bold fiction and nonfiction books.
The new club spree kicked off this year with Outdoorsman's Edge, which has books for hunters and fishermen. Launched in April, its Web site debuts mid-September.
A not-quite-club foray is cheapreads.com, which debuts next week as a bookselling site offering special bargains and low prices.
Doubleday Interactive will work closely with Barnesandnoble.com, the New York-based online bookseller that is 40 percent owned by Guetorsloh, Germany, a division of Bertelsmann. Barnes & Noble Inc., the world's leading bookstore chain, is the other 40 percent partner, and the public owns the remaining bn.com equity.
The marketer in March launched BooksOnline.com as a portal for all company book clubs. The clubs feature many categories, including women, sci-fi, mystery, best sellers, military, entertainment, computers, lifestyles, education and large print.
“We're going to do some aggressive campaigning for the portal [which is] for people who don't know which club to join,” said Radwell, adding that the site was a catchall for generic audiences.
E-mail programs, joint sponsorships and banners on search engines are planned, he said, declining to go into further detail for competitive reasons. In the fall, online chats and exchanges between Doubleday customers will go live as part of a community-building measure. Polling among readers, subscribers and visitors has already begun on the portal.
“The biggest challenge is trying to explain to consumers that book clubs are not old-fashioned things for my aunt or your grandmother,” Radwell said. “They provide a combination of great value, much better prices than retail, focused editorial pre-selection and convenience.”