June 20, 2014
Bertelsmann To Shut Down German Book Club Division
by Benjamin Sandman
If you live in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, and, by some chance, belong to Bertelsmann’s book club, I’ve got some bad news: from now on, you’ll have to buy your books elsewhere. The closure is no surprise; since the advent of the internet and the rise of one drone-loving, publisher-bullying, employee-mistreating online retailer, the “Book of the Month Club” model been in decline. Membership in the Bertelsmann Club had fallen from 7 million people in 1992 to only 3 million in 2005, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Bertelsmann was founded as a German publisher in 1835, and remained modest in size for over a century. As described by The Hollywood Reporter, things changed after World War II:
The Bertelsmann book club was set up in 1950 by company founder Reinhard Mohn who saw an opportunity in post-war Germany to sell books at a discount to the country’s swelling aspirational middle class. By publishing editions 4-6 months after their original release, Bertelsmann was able to avoid German price-fixing regulations on books and offer best-sellers at a major discount.
The success of the book club helped Bertelsmann to grow into the massive media corporation that it is today. And, as recently as the 1980s, Bertelsmann’s faith in the book club model was central to the company’s expansion––as shown by their acquisition of Doubleday. Now, their holdings include music company BMG, FremantleMedia––the producer of American Idol––and Penguin Random House.
One of the biggest surprises of this story, for me, is the revelation that the book club had lasted this long. Similar, iconic American ventures––the Columbia Record Club comes to mind––vanished from our collective consciousness years ago. In fact, the Columbia Record Club stuck around until 2011, and a DVD club, called Columbia House, still exists, apparently.
As a Google search confirmed, Book-of-the-Month-Club rolls on. And Bertelsmann’s book club business will not halt completely. So breathe a big sigh of relief––that is, if you live in Ukraine or Russia.
Ben Sandman is a Melville House intern