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Do book clubs really save money?

Five hardcover books for a dollar sure sounds like a super deal. But is it really?

By Stacy Johnson Mar 8, 2012 6:42PM

This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.


Money Talks News on MSN MoneyEven in this era of iPads and Kindles, book clubs seem like a great deal. Who doesn't want five hardback books for only a buck?

 

But the offer loses some of its luster once you read the fine print. Factor in shipping costs and contract requirements, and that book club may not be such a great deal after all.


Signup offers

To lure you in, book clubs give you a stash of books for next to nothing. For example, as of this month, here are the sign-up offers from three of the bigger clubs:


Doubleday Book Club

  • Initial offer: five books for 99 cents
  • Optional promotion: two books for $5.99 each
  • Shipping: estimated at $13.70 for five books

Quality Paperback Book Club

  • Initial offer: four books for $1 each
  • Optional promotion: two books for $4.99 each
  • Shipping: estimated at $11.71 for four books

The Literary Guild

  • Initial offer: five books for 99 cents
  • Optional promotion: two books for $5.99 each
  • Shipping: estimated at $13.70 for five books
Contracts

Here's where things start to head south. To get these deals, you have to agree to a "membership commitment." That varies, but your commitment requires you to buy a certain number of books at full price within a year. For example, membership agreements as of February:

  • Doubleday Book Club: Buy four books at full price.
  • Quality Paperback Book Club: Buy two books at regular price.
  • The Literary Guild: Buy four books at full price.

If you don't buy enough full-price books, the club will charge your credit card on file for the cost of the remaining books you didn't buy. (Post continues below.)

Automatic shipping

Every month, the book club will send you a "feature selection offer" via snail mail or email highlighting two books. You must accept or decline both books by the due date. Forget to do that, and the book club will ship the books automatically -- and charge the credit card on file.


Once the books arrive in the mail, you can go through the hassle of returning them, or you can keep the books you probably didn't want in the first place and use them toward your purchase amount.


Book pricing

Book clubs insist their prices are lower than the publisher's listed price. For example, from the Literary Guild website:

With our unbeatable deals, you'll experience great discounts on bestsellers, critics' picks, fan favorites and more. Remember, you'll always save up to 50% off Publishers' Edition prices.

That sounds good, but most stores price new books for less than the "listed" price. For example, "A Good American" by Alex George is "listed" for $25.95, but that's not what bookstores are charging:

  • Amazon.com: $15.41
  • Barnes & Noble: $15.56
  • Buy.com: $16.92

So are book clubs a good deal on regularly priced books? It depends. The book club pricing is lower than the publisher's listed price, but the discounted amount varies. To make sure you're getting a good deal, you need to compare each book with other bookstores' prices.


The clubs also run sales, like buy-one-get-two-free offers, throughout the year. Shopping the sales can save you money, but the books you buy won't count toward your membership commitment.


Bottom line: Book club deals are just decent pricing with a contract attached. For example, let's say I signed up for the Doubleday Book Club today.

  • This afternoon I buy five books under the promotional offer. Total: $14.69.
  • Next month, I buy one feature selection for $17.99, plus $3.99 shipping. Total: $21.98.
  • A couple of months later, I buy two books for $30.98 and get $2.99 promotional shipping. Total: $33.97.
  • At the end of the year, I buy another book for $17.99, plus $3.99 shipping, to complete my membership agreement. Total: $21.98.

After the year is up, I paid $92.62 for nine books -- or roughly $10.29 per book.

 

Not a bad deal, but not a great one either. I likely could have gotten those prices shopping around at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble without the hassle. And personally, I think no purchase commitments and no monthly selections is a far better deal.


Finally, let's not forget that I can get as many books as I'd like free from the stacks my tax dollars already help support. They're at the public library.


What do you think of book clubs?

 

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

 

1Comment
Mar 9, 2012 11:00AM
avatar
I used to belong to some of those book clubs, but nowadays I get all my books from paperbackswap.com. I list the books I have available for swap, and when a member orders one I pay the postage and earn a credit to "buy" another book from a member on the site. And I can almost always find the books I want - this week I received V is for Vengeance, Sue Grafton's just-published book in her alphabet series. After I've read it, I can post it again and trade it for something else. Not a bad deal at all.
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