Armchair BEA Discussion: Rise of the online book club member

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Welcome to the Armchair BEA! Today's the first day of this four-day event, organized to coincide with the BookExpo America that is in full swing in NY. Those of us unlucky enough not to be in the most happening place this week are instead going to be a part of BEA from the cozy comforts of our home. (I know it's not much, but at least one can claim that feeling of participation!). Today, for my first post for the Armchair BEA, I'm going to talk, sing and glorify online reader communities.


How many online reading communities are you currently a member of? One? Two? Five? Countless? Don't-know? Don't-track? Rather-not-track?

For a long time, there have been book clubs. I mean the real physical book clubs, where usually, a bunch of avid readers sit in cozy couches or chairs (I like the couches better) around a table, and have an intellectual discussion about the many nuances of a book's plot. Lately, we have been having online book clubs and communities as well. And with their proliferation, online book communities are getting larger with more book selections per month, plus plenty of features to ensure that members return to the community many times a day, as opposed to the once a month meetings that are usually common with the physical book clubs.

Are physical book clubs dying out? I guess not, but are they becoming less popular compared to online book clubs? Or are online book clubs becoming more popular?

Is it fair to call any of the many online books clubs as a "book club"? Considering that not always do the same group of members come together to discuss a book online, as opposed to meeting physically.

Personally, I like the face-to-face on-the-fly nature of the physical book clubs. Nothing beats an in-person debate. How nice it is to see the actual expressions and listen to the strong opinions of fellow readers? Such book clubs are however hard to maintain. The time commitment required is something that the modern reader somehow lacks. Also, it is not uncommon to hear of book club members slowing quitting. On the other hand, it is an entirely different experience to discuss books, sometimes real-time, sometimes not, from your own bedroom, while in your PJs! What can beat that? How about sitting in your own classroom / office, and stealing glances into your favorite book club's discussion page and managing to add your two cents to whatever is happening there right now? So long as your teacher / boss does not see you in the act, or sees you but doesn't give you the evil eye, it shouldn't really matter. Right? How about that feeling of being connected? You don't have to meet a person to be connected to him / her anymore. And those tons of book recommendations you get daily from fellow readers. It's no wonder we have such humongous wishlists.

On the other hand, I think it isn't fair to even compare the online and physical book clubs. No one chooses between them, just as no one chooses between e-books and print books. The online communities are here to stay as they make communication easier and faster. They facilitate book promotions to a wider global audience, and most importantly, there is that real-time access to information. You don't have to smack your head if you forgot a crucial discussion point of a book club read.


There are plenty of book communities to choose from today, that someone who is a member of many of them would find it difficult to keep track. Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari are probably the most popular dedicated book communities right now. In addition, popular booksellers and publishers have their own reading groups. Adding to the puree are the tons of book review and discussion blogs and websites that, with their own following, cultivate several huge communites. Phew!


Online book communities are a recent phenomenon. Or rather the spurt in their growth is recent. They are the one gathering place of a huge number of readers, authors, publishers and promoters, from all over the world. There is something rewarding about being able to discuss books with someone across the world from you, on a regular basis, without burning your phone bills. Most of these communities also offer free books, now who doesn't like that?


How do these book communities help the reader, the author and the publisher? As a reader, I love discussing books as much as the next reader. Discussing books has become my main pastime, probably eating up most of my time, even more than I spend reading. There, I said it. In addition to book discussions, there are usually plenty of other hot bookish topics in such communities - be it author interviews, series discussions, and even fun things like Secret Santa gift exchange. With plenty of online book communities focusing on different book genre and categories, every reader usually has a lot of options to choose from.

With such a large readerbase, such communities have a good following among authors and publishers alike. What better place than the wide-open far-reaching online communities to promote your books? What do you think of the growing presence of online book communities? Too much, or just enough?

38 comments:

Roseann's 1001 Books said...

My name is Roseann and I am a Good Reads addict. I am currently in too many groups to count, but have sworn off reading challenges until I finish my MLIS (my blog is fulfilling my challenge fix).

I was just introduced to Library Thing and many of my instructors have mentioned it, but I haven't been there much--don't want to get hooked.


I agree with you, I like in-person book clubs much better, but it is very hard to keep one going. I belonged to a group a couple of years ago, but we slowly faded to only two members and then none. There are a couple of book clubs with the library, but the members are either teens or seniors, both of which I am not. I guess things move too fast these days to get 20-40 somethings together to talk about books at a specific time, sigh.

Personally, I love Good Reads and think that it is up to the member as to whether it is too much, or just enough. If you are like me and tend to join in way too much, it can be time consuming, but I am not held to any specific meetings and can quit at any time. I love the fact that I get to meet fellow readers from around the world, which I would not be able to do with a local book club.

Thanks for this BEA fix, I wish they still headed West, but it looks like it's going to be East Coast for some time, waaaaa! I went last time it was in LA and had a great time.

Gwen said...

Online book clubs are a godsend to me. I tend to be a homebody, not liking to go out, meet new people and even worse, have to read as slow as others.

Thanks to online clubs, blogs, twitter, etc, I am able to learn about new books, share what I think, learn what others think about the same book and more.

The bonus is that get to sit here, on nights like this, in my PJ's talking to people from all over the world about our common love, books!

Kristen M. said...

I'm the same as Gwen -- not very good at getting out. I love online book clubs because I can pick and choose which I participate with. I don't have to feel guilty when I'm busy or when I'm really just not interested in a selection.

Still, it might be nice to meet other readers face to face every once in a while. ;)

Jen G. said...

Shy as I am, I would actually love to belong to an in-person book club. Unfortunately, my work schedule rules that out. There aren't really any night-shifters who are going to meet at 7:30 in the morning after working all night. :( Don't get me wrong--I adore GoodReads and really wish I could find a way to balance my blogging time with my GR time, but GR has been badly neglected lately. But at the times I'm on, very few people are also on, so I don't feel like I quite get the same discussion everyone else did. Oh, I can go back and read it, but when it basically turns into a chat room, I have to admit that I feel a little left out. It feels a little pointless to resurrect something that ended hours earlier. Still, I have "met" wonderful people on GR and in the blogging community, and in reality, that is probably what works best for me.

Great post!

Beachreader said...

I would also like to be in a -face-to-face book club, but when you live in a small town the online community is a godsend.

readerbuzz said...

I first joined an online book club...well, I don't know when it was but it was before we had Windows. I remember "meeting" at a set time on Sunday night. I would post something and then I'd wait and see that someone else would post something. It was, oh, back around 1996.

Then I joined a group that evolved into the present day Booklistgroup. It moved to Yahoo and my love for online groups began...On the Porch Swing...All Nonfiction...lots of these....

ladystorm said...

I live in a small one horse town..lol so you can just say personal live action book clubs are non existant..

I love Good Reads, its a great place to talk about books. I am not as big on Library Thingy but it is probably because I don't go there much. I am mainly a Good Reads addict. :)

Emmagan said...

I would love to go to a face to face book club, but and online one is just as great!

I use goodreads and library thingy by but goodreads more! I love a online book club because i can read at my own pace and i can't be in comfort of my home!

Anyways cool post i liked reading it!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I <3 online book clubs, sites, and such but I crave for an in-person one.

Star Shadow said...

I agree they do seem to be dying out as you dont quite hear of them as you use to .. I do also believe that online communities are great for people who don't have as much of a chance to get out and be part of face to face groups. Especially in todays economy where families are working 2 plus jobs to make things work, thus, making things more difficult for people being able to join community based groups.

Melina said...

I like online since it's easier. But physical is not bad either. Have to wait and see.

Felicia the Geeky Blogger said...

I do both and don't think I would live without the other. Just as I have ebooks and paper books, I don't feel the need to go all one or another!

Online book clubs give you the ability to connect with other readers in your favorite genres. Often, in person book clubs are much more middle of the road fiction than leaning towards one genre or another.

However, neither of them are good for my ever-expanding TBR list :)

Melissa said...

I would love to belong to a physical book club, but time is my problem since I have 2 small children under the age of 3. The online book clubs are a godsend since I can participate in the discussions that interest me.

I also use Goodreads and have a Shelfari account. I spend much more time on Goodreads then I do on Shelfari. Unfortunately, I seem to add more items to my TRB pile every time I look at Goodreads then I do marking them off the list. LOL

Emily said...

I do both, and I like them both for different reasons.

My physical book club is with a group of close friends. We get together, eat, and discuss whatever books we happen to be reading at the time. It's very casual.

I use Goodreads, and have joined several different book clubs. Sometimes I read what is recommended, other times I don't. It just depends on my schedule.

StephTheBookworm said...

I would love to be in an in-person book club, but haven't found one here, plus my school schedule makes it a bit difficult. I'm in some on Goodreads and that's pretty fun, but I think I'd really like to connect in person as well. Having the blog has been wonderful as well to help connect me with other readers.

unfinishedperson.com said...

I'll be honest that I really haven't done either. I've been involved with online book meme groups such as Weekly Geeks and The Sunday Salon, but not book clubs. I guess I'm too much into doing my own thing, that I really don't want to be reading someone else's idea of what I should be reading. Yep, I'm selfish like that. :)

Zee said...

I would love to be part of a IRL book club but right now, where I live, that is just not realistic. So blogs and to a certain extent twitter fulfill my need to discuss books.

Aths said...

Thank you every one for passing by today.

Roseann, I went through a phase when I joined too many online book clubs. Till I found that I wasn't deeply involved in most of them. At that point, I just took myself off a few. It was hard, but long overdue. But I agree, the lack of real-time meetings in online book clubs are precisely what interests me to join them.

Gwen, I find I like my online life much better, LOL! I love the easy access and ease of communication factors of online book clubs. That I don't have to drive a bit and pop into a book club meeting is a real advantage!

Kristen, I'm sure it would be nice to meet other readers once in a while, especially when they are close friends as well. That would be a really good experience.

Jen, the work timings are definitely a bummer. You should try meeting with others who go by your same shift. I can tell you that being online on GR at the same time as everyone else makes a huge difference! I've tried the other way, and boy does that place feel like a deserted island?

Lynne said...

Hi Aths, great topic and thoughtful post.

You know what I don't like about in person book clubs? It seems like there is always someone there who gets off topic and starts talking about their dog (even though I love dogs) or their aunt with cancer or their broken dishwasher. It drives me nuts because I want to talk about the book!

So yeah, I do like Goodreads :)

Lynne's Book Reviews

Bibliobabe said...

I like both types - but think they are two completely different things. I love the social feeling from a physical book club - and usually don't get that as much for online networks. I mainly use the online tools to find great reading suggestions and share mine with others. But, to really discuss a book, I definitely prefer in person.

Mary Elizabeth said...

I have tried a couple of live bookclubs, but nobody wanted to talk about the books! It was frustrating, especially when I forced myself to read some books I did not enjoy just so I could be prepared! I like online book clubs and communities much better!

Marcia said...

Unlike Beachreader, I am smack dab in the middle the bookstore choice heaven--the Greater Boston area. Great indies and the usual B&N and Borders--all within a 20-minute drive. I participate in a f2f group and several online Yahoo groups as well (Mystery Reader Cafe, On the Porch Swing). The experience of each is unique to the medium; as Bibliobabe said, they are two completely different things.

I was on Library Thing but switched to Good Reads (I like their simpler format).

I'll support whatever enhances my reading experience but will pull the overload reins in when involvement in these things infringes on my actual reading time.

Alyce said...

I definitely think that online book clubs are vastly different from real life book clubs. I belong to a lot of different online discussion groups via the various book sites (LT, Goodreads, and Shelfari), and there just isn't enough time to participate in them all. Plus I think I end up connecting to people more through blogging (and visiting blogs) than I do through an online group - but that is probably also because I don't put a lot of time into it.

Some of the challenges I have participated in have the feel of a book club, especially if there is a narrow focus for the challenge. I haven't participated in a read-along yet either, but that seems to me to be the closest replication of a real life book club.

But part of the fun of the real life book club is getting out of the house, socializing over dinner, talking about families and life in addition to the books.

pickygirlfoodfilmfiction said...

I have actually never been part of a real book club (gasp!). At least, not formally. My family and friends all love to read, but that means that often we pass books but never really talk about them.

That's why I love the Internet discussions and read-a-longs because they go more in depth than I've been before. It reminds me of being in literature class again, and I love it. In fact, I teach it, and that's one of my favorite aspects of class: discussion.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I consider blogging itself to be my online book club. I prefer it to a "real" book club because I can pick all the books and communicate about just them! I do think real life bookclubs are good if you can find one that is really compatible with your book tastes - I haven't been able to do that!

pussreboots said...

There's also BookCrossing.com which combines the online book club experience with monthly meetings. I go to my local BookCrossing club meetings where we discuss all the books we've read and then swap them.

Beverly said...

Currently I participate in number of on-line book clubs - it fits my schedule and where I currently live.
But, my saving grace is my book buddy - we have similar reading tastes (except for a few genres) and it is just wonderful to read a book with her and then discuss. it has really enhanced the experience. I started on Shelfari and then was disappointed - but still keep up with one group there. I then started participating in Good Reads and I feel this is a better place for me - if I can find the time to participate more. Also have an account at Library Thing but have not really used it.

Doret said...

When I first joined Shelfari, I was always on it. Now I just use it to track the books I am reading and have read.

I finally joined Good Reads because everyone said I had to but I don't spend much time their. I am worried I will get sucked in like I did at Shelfari.

Though, I think this Online book communities are very good. There are less and less reviews of books. These communities keep people talking about books and that's a very good thing.

Tif said...

GREAT post!!! I love face-to-face contact as well for my monthly book group, but what I find difficult is finding a group as passionate about books as I am! That's where the online book groups come to the rescue!! :)

Valerie said...

I have never been able to find a in-real-life book club that would fit my schedule, so that's why I love blogging about books and reading other book blogs:-)!

I'm a member of LibraryThing and love it to keep track of all my books, but never thought to use it as a resource for online book clubs. I'll have to look into that.

The1stdaughter said...

I really enjoyed your post and the topic you picked, so clever! I'm currently a member of an "in-person" book club as well as my many online venues. The in-person one is through my church group and comprised of mostly women much much older than me. Most of the time I actually find this quite refreshing, their take on things and the affection they show me for just being there with them is wonderful. Sometimes though the book selection is not so hot. But, I'm sure that would happen with any group.

As for online, I think it's great! I'm absolutely addicted and it's been so nice to have a group of friends to chat with on a daily basis all about something I'm passionate about.

Aths said...

Beachreader, there should be physical book clubs in small towns. There's actually one in my small town too, but I didn't join it, maybe I should try it someday?

readerbuzz, it's amazing to be part of the same book club for years! There will be so many things to say about that group! I loved reading how the earliest online book clubs were!

ladystorm, I am not a fan LT either, because I don't like its design or because I got used to GR. But the book life in small towns can be pretty dreary.

Emmagan, I love online book clubs too, because you can choose to opt out of a book if you aren't interested in it, plus you can set your own pacing!

Aths said...

Juju, I love online book clubs too, but wish I was a member of a real physical one too.

Star Shadow, that's very true. Online book clubs are definitely more convenient. There is no longer a need to get out of your current location, no more worrying over missed meetings. While the socializing factor is definitely less, this is still the more convenient option for most people.

Melina, I hope you do get the chance to join a physical book club. I'm sure the experience will be very enriching.

Felicia, LOL, our cursed TBRs! But I get your point, there are so many pluses in both, that it isn't fair to even compare them. We do need both, and it would be great if we can try to save the physical book club.

Aths said...

Melissa, I started using Shelfari first, then almost by chance, got to Goodreads. That was the best day of my life! I really love GR!

Emily, I like it when a physical book club is born out of a friendship. It becomes so much easier to maintain and discussions are so casual and personal sometimes.

Steph, I'd love to connect in person as well. I think it really enhances a discussion. Bummer that our school schedules do not allow much free time.

unfinishedperson.com, Awww, you should try one of the book clubs. I don't always go by choices, but I do when I can. The part I like the most is getting to talk to other readers.

Aths said...

Zee, it really is hard to find someone just as passionate about books as us so as to form a book club. I really wish it was a more feasible idea.

Lynne, that is annoying, right? I am known as the person who struggles to get sidetracked, so quite bluntly, I have sometimes brought conversations back to the starting point without any grace LOL.

Bibliobabe, that's so much like me! I would love to discuss books with someone in person, if only I had crazy book lovers nearby!

Mary Elizabeth, that would annoy me as well. If book clubs don't discuss books, I will get out right away!

Aths said...

Marcia, wow, that place sounds like heaven! I should try moving to there. I like Goodreads too, more than LT.

Alyce, since I started blogging, I find I connect more through reading other blogs. I would love to be a part of a real book club. The socializing part would be so much fun.

pickygirlfoodfilmfiction, I haven't been part of a real book club either and I would so love to! I do enjoy the in-depth discussions so much.

rhapsodyinbooks, that is a nice way to look at it. That each of our blogs are a book club in a way.

Aths said...

pussreboots, thanks for letting me know that! I hadn't heard of it, so I'm definitely going to check that!

Beverly, I started out at Shelfari too, but I wasn't impressed, and then I pounced on GR. Wow! I loved it. I also have an account at LT, but do not use it.

Doret, I second that! These book communities keep a book alive for a long time! I like that kind of word of mouth a lot.

Tif, I have felt the same thing as well! I found the most passionate readers online.

Valerie, I doubt a real book club would fit my schedule either, but I sure would love to try.

Danielle, I'm glad you are in a real book club. I would love to be in one. But of course, the problem of book choices would be there anywhere. I think the advantage we have with online book clubs is that we can join as many as we wish and hence have a wider set of books to choose from for that month.

Lisa said...

Ah, you totally just busted me on doing the on-line book clubs while I'm supposed to be working! I love my IRL book club--the ladies there are all friends now. But I love the flexibility of the online ones as well. You just lose that personal touch.