-by Janey Thornton
I'll often pick up a book at Bookbarn with a note saying it was a 'Book of the Month Club' book. This week, I thought I'd delve into the history of this club, based in the United States and still existing to this day. This is what I've found out.
In 1926, Montreal-born Harry Scherman co-founded the Book of the Month Club. The core concept was simple - subscribers would be sent a list of five books to choose from per month. Once they had made their choice, their book was mailed to them.
To give an indication of how much of an instant success the company was - it started with 4,000 subscribers but by 1946 had reached an astonishing 550,000. By 1993, this figure had climbed again to 3 million. Since its first selection in 1926, the club has distributed over 570 million books to subscribers across the United States - so no wonder some of them have ended up at Bookbarn!
Scherman had initially taken a job as a copywriter at an advertising firm after graduating from college. Through this position, he gained valuable knowledge of and expertise in mail order promotion. His passion for literature led him to begin to think of ways in which to sell books through the mail. It was shortly after leaving that advertising position that he founded the Book of the Month Club.
Very quickly it became apparent that 'Book of the Month' endorsed books were gaining a kind of prestige. Books offered by the club soon began to see their bookstore sales rise as well. Being a 'Book of the Month' became a steadfast way for emerging authors to gain popularity and for publishers to start making serious money. Many publishers began to give price breaks to the company as a result.
Incredibly, in the 1940s and following the aftermath of WWII, the company continued to grow. BOMC purchased The Non-Fiction Book Club from Henry Holt & Co. in 1948 and integrated it into its own operation. Other new services added around this time included The Travelers Book Club and Metropolitan Miniatures. This involved sets of art reproductions being offered in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By 1951, circulation for Metropolitan Miniatures had exceeded an amazing 100,000. During the next decade the company continued to explore new ventures, establishing Young Readers of America, its first book club for children, in 1952.
After a brief slump in subscribers owing to the rise of independent bookshops and paperback novels in the US at that time, Harry Scherman died in 1969. His son-in-law Axel Rosin became acting president. As he was Jewish and a trained lawyer, Rosin has fled Germany in 1934 shortly after the issuing of a Nazi decree banning Jews from entering courthouses. During Rosin's leadership the company's annual sales doubled and membership reached 1.25 million. He retired in 1979. Growth was steady until the 90s and early 2000s, when Amazon began to eat up a lot of the market share and seriously rival bookstores on a nationwide level.
Today, BOMC exists completely online. Monthly book selections are chosen by a panel of judges and announced on the 1st of each month, with subscribers having until the 7th to make their choice. A new celebrity judge joins the panel each month. The club no longer discloses its membership figures, so it's difficult to make an assessment of whether or not it has experienced any decline or growth in recent years. However, after being bought by parent company Bookspan in 2016, the company is regarded by many as having been given a new lease of life, with thousands and thousands of followers on social media.
The history of the Book of the Month Club is a rich and interesting one. I'll think of it now whenever I come across a book which was a BOMC selection. And I hope you will also!
To read my previous profile of a 'person in books' - Allen Lane, founder of Penguin Books - click here.And to visit our website to find out more about us, click here.