For a good portion of my professional career I was involved with continuity direct marketing. We did work for record clubs like Bertelsmann (and Columbia House) and book clubs like Book of the Month Club. I learned a great deal about continuity marketing from books written by the legendary and still working Lester Wunderman – Being Direct is a favorite. In fact I had the pleasure of having lunch with Lester and his daughter –in-law Lynn a couple of years ago and we talked about the changes in continuity as a whole as it related to online fulfillment.
So I should not have been surprised to see an ad on my commuter train for Entitle Books offering 2 e-books for $9.99. It appears to be a pretty good deal and in many ways it is, even after you read the fine print. The fine print details the structure of the offer – free trial for 7 days and if you are not completely satisfied you can cancel and keep the e-books and you are automatically enrolled in one of three monthly programs – 2 e-books/month for 9.99, 3 e-books for $14.99/month or 4 e-books for $19.95/book. I thought it was a bit strange that the offer did not improve when you bought more books – basically $5.00/book, half the price (give or take) of other e-books.
Reading more than 2 books/month is a continually unfulfilled dream of mine. Yet it plays into my desire to read more books. At $9.99/month it’s certainly affordable even if the library of choices has limitations. Which is reminiscent of the way LP’s, and CD’s via continuity programs behaved when I was both a customer and a supplier of services to those clubs.
But the e-book continuity model is WAY better than fulfilling actual books or CDs. When I visited Doubleday Book Clubs fulfillment center some years ago I was amazed at the 1950’s Rube Goldberg-like contraption that picked and packed customer orders to be shipped. Yet the shipping and handling charges for each book was a primary profit center for record clubs and book clubs. That aspect is lost in e-books.
I did an analysis when I was a customer of the CD clubs and found that if I took the 9 CD’s for a penny and only purchased the CD’s when 2 for 1 specials (or other specials) were offered, even including mailing (yes I know SO old school) the postcard back to decline some shipments, the cost of the CD’s was $9.30 per CD which at that time that was considerably less than retail pricing which ranged from $12-$18 per CD on average. It was a great way to build my CD library. Eventually I exhausted all the album choices that interested me and cancelled my membership. I see that same future for e-book continuity clubs.
The key to continuity clubs is the aspect of negative option billing. Better known in the industry as ‘fill-to-kill’, i.e. the product is shipped every month unless the customer indicates they do not wish to receive the shipment. In the case of e-book fulfillment, the 7-day return policy is a good one and protects people if they forget to stop the shipment. That did not work as easily when you had to physically send back a book or a CD – not to mention the giant hassle it created. I still have a few books and CD’s that I NEVER listened to because I forgot to respond and never got around to sending it back. Continuity clubs depend on this sort of behavior to a certain degree.
So are e-book continuity clubs worth your while? I would offer a qualified yes, IF, and only if you check the library of choices and find that there are a number of titles that you would truly like to read and find time to read. It can help you build your library even if you do not plan to read the books right now. But at a certain point you will reach a saturation point and no longer have interest in most if not all of the titles. At that point bail out and cancel. The books you pay for and never read are actually the most expensive books you’ll ever not read.
So what do you think? Would you enroll in an e-book continuity club?