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A book club can be defined in two general ways. It can mean that an individual has entered into a contract with a company to buy a certain number of books per year, or it can be defined as a discussion group in which a varied number of people agree on several titles they will read, and then hold discussions relating to those titles. Both definitions of a book club have variations.
A pay as you go book club is usually one of two types: specific genre books like sci-fi or history, or a listing of bestsellers like book of the month clubs. If one belongs to a paying book club, he or she has probably, at the onset of the contract, purchased several books for a very low price. Many of these book clubs offer an initial purchase of five books for under a US dollar, plus shipping and handling. When this first purchase has been made, the new member must then purchase several more books at regular or slightly higher prices during a set period of time, usually one or two years. If the member does not purchase the agreed upon number of books, he or she is usually charged at the end of the time period.
Often, this type of contract will send a form each month requiring the member to designate whether they wish to choose a selected book for the month. If the owner does not mail back to decline this offer in time, the book is sent, and the purchaser must either return it or be billed for it. Since this has been a point of resistance for many people considering joining, some newer clubs have forgone this arrangement and merely send out a listing of available books each month.
Selection of books after the initial purchase varies. Reputable clubs generally have a good selection of titles, but other clubs may be trying to get rid of titles that have not sold well in stores and have not received much critical acclaim. Sometimes offered books have less quality in binding and paper than those purchased in stores.
If one purchases a lot of books, joining a book club may be a good choice. Clubs offer deals if you purchase a couple of selections at time, such as choosing a free third book. These offers improve as one buys more books.
However, with a paying book club, the initial "deal" on books is so attractive that new members do not always read the fine print of the contract they are signing. While there are some excellent and reputable book clubs, there are others that eventually cost more. If one is considering joining a book club, it's advisable to compare the listed prices of books to those one finds at a bookstore or an online shop like Amazon. Often, the initial savings may not actually represent a savings by the time one makes the additional required purchases.
The second type of book club is one in which a number of people agree upon reading certain selections, and then meet to discuss them. These can be informal gatherings among friends, or may bring together strangers who share a love of reading. Discussion groups often require you to purchase the book you are reading, and possibly a specific edition of the book, especially if everyone wants to be able to look on the same page when someone is referring to an example in the text.
Such discussion groups can be based like paying book clubs on specific genres, or on newly released bestsellers. Though book clubs used to include face-to-face meetings, online clubs now proliferate. Both online and off, new members may have to pay a fee, though for many book clubs a fee is not required.
Certain television programs have also based shows, or portions of shows, on a new form of the book club. Both the Today Show and Oprah Winfrey's talk show have book clubs where chosen books are discussed. The viewer can tune in for these discussions and also access materials online. Though some of these television-oriented book clubs promote the purchase of new books, Winfrey often recommends classic literature, so motives are not completely profit generated.
This second kind of book club provides an opportunity for reading interesting material and improving the mind. The first type, when entered into with caution, can be an excellent method for acquiring new material if one is already an avid reader.