January 11th, 2012 | 4 MIN READ

Book Club 2.0: Rise of the Online Reading Group

Written by Amanda Dhalla

As head of consumer research with Elastic Path’s Research and Strategy division, Amanda Dhalla helps global enterprises like Google better understand consumer behavior in order to optimize their digital offerings. Amanda’s research has been cited by CNN, Econsultancy, Smart Money, and Internet Retailer. A seasoned ecommerce professional with more than 14 years in the field, Amanda has hands-on experience marketing, merchandising and managing multimillion dollar online stores. Her areas of specialization range from market research, conversion optimization and analytics to traffic generation tactics such as social media, search engine optimization, and content marketing.

More popular than ever, book clubs have gone digital thanks to the widespread adoption of a whole host of web tools, from Skype to Facebook, and anytime anywhere access to reading materials through ereaders and tablets.

A few recent examples:

  • Last week saw the debut of content aggregator Huffington Post's book club, a new kind of reading group aimed at creating a unique intersection between the digital and physical world. The HuffPost Book Club encourages readers to contribute online through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Flickr but also team up with local book clubs and independent bookstores to host online discussions and real-world events.HuffPost book club
  • In August 2011, More Magazine used Skype's group video-calling feature enable 9 book clubs across the U.S. to chat with author Meg Wolitzer about her latest book, The Uncoupling. Watch the video below for a glimpse of the live event, which apparently went off without a hitch:

    Email and RSS subscribers – can’t see the video? Check out this post online.

  • Inspired by the One Book, One City programs, The Atlantic's 1book140 book club kicked off in June last year. The discussion takes place largely on Twitter; readers nominate and vote on their favorites, then tweet about the selections. They also link to people's blogs and Tumblr and Facebook pages, with regular summaries of the conversation provided at TheAtlantic.com.1book140

How did the online book club come about?

It all started with Oprah Winfrey in 1996. While Oprah didn't invent the book club, she popularized the idea of reading books as part of a mass community. Fordham University marketing professor Al Greco estimates that sales of 'Oprah editions' of the 70 titles she recommended total 55 million copies.

Then shortly after the turn of the millennium, a flurry of social platforms emerged – Facebook, Ning, Squiddo, LibraryThing, Meetup, Goodreads, and Twitter, amongst dozens of others. Social media began to help book clubs connect to discuss selections online, and with a wider audience. According to a 2011 survey conducted by the website Reading Group Choices (RGC), 22% of reading group members used social networking sites to learn about books to discuss in 2010.


In 2007 Amazon launched the Kindle and commenced pushing discounted ebooks to raise ereader adoption. Just 4 years later, the Kindle had its best year ever, selling 4 million plus devices in December alone. Strong demand for tablets and ereaders are driving ebook sales which are expected to generate $9.7 billion worldwide in 2016, more than three times last year's $3.2 billion. These devices make it easy for discussion group members to buy books and read more frequently. Book clubs can share and discuss passages, read each others' reviews, and lend ebooks from their ereaders and tablets too.

Through social networks, mobile devices, and web tools like Skype, readers now have unprecedented access to the lives and work of writers, and each other. Discussions about favorite classics and bestsellers have evolved to become more engaging for everyone.

What's next for reading groups?

With the book industry changing faster than most other forms of physical media, it'll only be a matter of months or weeks before we see the next twist in book clubs:

  • Will Facebook take a more active role in book discovery by instantly sharing what you're reading with your friends and fellow book club members? Possibly. Certainly peer-to-peer recommendation is likely to gain in importance as ebook sales continue to soar.
  • Will regular ebooks give way to enhanced ebooks with interviews, movie clips, and interactive graphics? Soon. And since enriched ebooks are only in their infancy, who knows what will be possible in a few years.
  • Will holographic TVs enable authors to digitally enter our living rooms? Probably not for another 7-10 years at least.

Whatever else the future holds, most certainly there'll be some re-reading of The Hobbit this year to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Complete with lots of seed cake recipes, whether digital or otherwise.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Do you belong to an online or in-person book club?

What technologies are you using to connect with other members? Share your story below.

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