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?
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?