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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Whatever happened to the old mail-order book clubs?

In 1992 I joined a book club, one of those mail-order things which were fairly prevalent at the time. In those days I had only recently discovered the real joy of proper books, and was taking my first tentative steps away from the big-name established authors into the murky waters of new-fiction.
As I didn’t drive at the time and the nearest proper book-shops were all some distance away, it wasn’t particularly practical to visit these with any sort of regularity. So the mail-order clubs were a decent way into new fiction.
I quickly learned to ignore the reviews in the monthly ‘magazines’ they sent, as these were basically just ‘very’ thinly disguised advertising blurb. Forgivable, as after all selling books was their business, not educating the unread masses.
If you didn’t order from the magazine on a monthly basis you got sent the ‘editors choice.’ Basically in order to get your bumper-pack of ‘introductory books’ very cheaply you agreed to order something from each month’s catalogue, for a year, or you got sent a default book each month; probably something that wasn’t selling too well.
I was happy enough with the deal. I got a lot of books I wanted from the introductory offer, and there was generally more than enough in the monthly catalogue to catch my eye, although there were some months when, ether due to other commitments, circumstance, or simply forgetting I didn’t order in time and the default book was sent. Sometimes I did return these and ordered something else, ‘generally stating problems with the post’ as my excuse. I’m sure they had heard it all before but were generally very good at changing the books. However, sometimes I did discover a real gem that I wouldn’t normally have picked up.
It was through this mail-order subscription that I discovered some of my all-time favourite books, often by authors who were new and relatively unknown at the time.
I’ve heard a lot of people complain about things like this in the past, but I’m glad I signed up for this type of scheme. It opened a lot of literary doors to me that I wouldn’t have otherwise taken. For good or bad it was also largely responsible for introducing me to Terry Pratchett’s writing, and starting my extensive collection of Discworld books, merchandise, and general what-not's …


  1. Maybe they have gone online. I used to belong to this one...

  2. I’ve never come across anything quite the same on-line. It would be interesting to see if anyone else has.

    I think it’s probably just another instance of the e-world overtaking the market for this type of business. After all it’s quick and easy to do the same thing on-line now, with many more books and reviews at your fingertips.

    I’m still glad I joined one of these ‘clubs’ at the age I did though.