Rare Birds - sharing the joy

Rachel Wood
Opinion - Books Monday, 13 May 2019

Rachel Wood reports on the growth of her Rare Birds book club

There are so many things I never expected growing up; smartphones, hangovers, Uber. Or the fact that book clubs would one day become cool.

When I was a child, a book club was a thing your mum did with her friends from choir. Today, book clubs are so fashionable that even celebrities and brands are getting in on the action.

I can't stress enough what a turnaround this is; and nothing emphasises it more than the rise of the celebrity book club. These aren't exactly new: Oprah's groundbreaking Book Club launched Stateside in 1997, and here in the UK the Richard & Judy Book Club has been turning unknown novels into bestsellers since 2004, first on their television programme and then through partnership with WH Smith.

These were standout initiatives. In recent years however, countless other celebrities have joined the ranks with their own offerings. Reese Witherspoon, Florence Welch, Emma Watson, Zoe Ball and Emma Roberts are just a handful I can name off the top of my head who have launched their own virtual book clubs, recommending their favourite reads to fans and followers online. Clubs are also extremely popular with bloggers and influencers, who share their recommendations via hashtags, Facebook groups and dedicated Instagram pages.

Book club-style podcasts, too, are flourishing; a new one seems to pop up every week, ranging in theme from the general to the ultra-niche.

But I think the true marker that the movement has gone mainstream is how many brands are also launching their own clubs and hosting them in-store. That a shop selling bath products or smartphone cases would view a book club as a marketable entity speaks volumes about how the climate has shifted.

There have been so many predictions that ebooks would kill print, or that the internet would kill long-form reading. But to me, reading has never seemed more alive, and the book club renaissance is perfect evidence of this phenomenon.

The flipside of all our social media use means that it has never been easier to connect with other readers to talk about what you're reading. If there's no one in your social circle who shares your taste in books, you don't have to go far to seek out others who do.

It was this idea that pushed me to start Rare Birds Book Club. I wanted to find a community of people who loved the books I did, and seriously wanted to talk about them, but also didn't want to take the whole thing too seriously.

Rare Birds Book Club is a book subscription service championing women's literature and encouraging people to read for fun. Subscriptions are offered in one-month, three-month, six-month and 12-month options, and deliver pacey, interesting fiction with gripping plotlines and amazing heroines straight to your door. Subscribers all receive a surprise book at the start of each month along with a personal introduction to the book from me, explaining why I think it's worth their time.

It's a simple enough concept, and yet what started as an experiment quickly turned into a lot more. Thousands of readers from all over the world were subscribing and excited to take part. Since our launch we've delivered 19 different titles over 19 months to our loyal Rare Birds, championing books such as Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong and Mhairi McFarlane's Don't You Forget About Me.

At the end of each month, members log on to the Rare Birds digital book club, where they can chat about the books with others as well as access members-only bonus content. Hosting our book club online means our meetings are flexible enough that anyone can take part, no matter where they're based or how much spare time they have. Suddenly the book club meeting, a thing that was inaccessible to many, was easy, effortless and fun.

Being an online-first company means we have the chance to reach people all over the world, but lots of community building happens offline, too. From our first-ever live book club to our annual birthday bash, getting together in real life is a fantastic way to way to meet some of the wonderful women that we chat with every month via our online platforms and hear what they think about women in literature. We aim to meet with our customers as much as possible and regularly take part in consumer shows as well, such as Stylist Live, where we were named as one to watch in 2019.

That celebrities and brands see book clubs as an opportunity to create communities out of their followers and customers shows that they've finally cottoned on to what we longtime book club nerds have always known: that there are few things better than connecting with others over the shared joy of a book you love.


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