Book subscription packages – are they worth it?
Until this year I’d never experienced any of the subscription packages run by publishers or book shops. But somehow in 2018 I’ve ended up as a customer for three of these with mixed experiences.
The Random Book Club
At the end of last year a blogger (wish I could remember who you are) talked about a second hand book shop in Scotland that had decided to start a subscription service as a new way of generating much needed income. It was called The Random Book Club and promised a hand-picked book each month in return for £59.
Here’s how they described the service
Sign up and we’ll send you a hand-picked book once a month from our shop, the largest second-hand bookshop in Scotland. And with an element of surprise. You won’t have any idea what it’s going to be until it arrives.
Of the twelve books, roughly half will be fiction, half non-fiction. Every book you receive will be hand-picked from our shop; there will be no Book Club, Readers Union or Reader’s Digest reprints and all books will be in good condition. And you get to keep the books.
The serendipity aspect was what really appealed to me.
I wish I could say this has been worth doing but sadly it’s not the case. The books I’ve received haven’t really been of interest. The first was a biography of Richard Burton that I’d already read. Then came a little dictionary of the origin of words in the English language. I can’t remember the ones in the middle but the most recent was about the migration West in the United States. All of them have gone unread to the charity shop. Not one has been fiction so, since I have a few months left to go, I’ve asked if the remaining books can be fiction.
Asymptote Book Club
“The best of
delivered to you
I think it was Marina Sofia at Finding Time to Write that first put me on to the Asymptote Book Club. They promised to give me “fiction which will inspire and challenge” via “exciting new works by emerging voices and beloved authors … from all over the globe” My own attempts to read from a broader range of countries had stalled a little so this seemed like the perfect way to get back on track.
Ok full disclosure here.
I’ve managed to read only one of the books they’ve sent so far.
This was a book from a Chines author, by Yan Ge. The Chilli Bean Paste Clan was enjoyable and suited my mood at the time. Others that are waiting for my attention do look appealing and are exactly what Asymptote promised in terms of coming from many different parts of the world.
We’ve had, for example, Aranyak, which is from a Bengali author and I Didn’t Talk by the Brazilian author Beatriz Bracher. In between we’ve been taken to to a small village in northern Norway during an Arctic winter, and a Naples apartment filled with haunting memories of the past.
There are different packages available: a three months’ subscription for people who just want a taste of what’s on offer before, possibly, committing fully. I went for the year thinking I needed that time to fully appreciate whether this is for me. At the moment, even though I haven’t actually read the books, I’m thinking I’ll continue into next year.
My subscription to Bookishly came as a birthday gift from my sister. This is a company that started up in 2009 under a different name and sells various book-related items like prints and stationery. They have different book subscription packages. The one I have is their Tea and Book Club package where each month I receive a little bundle containing some stationery, a speciality tea, a bookmark and a vintage book (ie used).
The package is beautifully packed. I like the way they wrap the book separately so you get an additional surprise. This is the most recent delivery: two sheets of very high quality wrapping paper (almost too nice to use!); a bookmark, 4 tea bags containing Egyptian Camomile tea.
Inside the package is a Penguin Edition of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. I’ve read the book three times already but still like the idea of having a Penguin edition. Last month’s package was also a Penguin edition – of The Fall by Albert Camus, which is one I’ve not read.
Overall I’ve enjoyed getting these little surprises through the letterbox though my gift subscription is now at an end. I’m unlikely to continue, not because I don’t rate the service, but there are only so many books I can read in one year and I don’t want my reading choices too heavily dictated by what other people select on my behalf.
And my overall verdict on book subscriptions?
A mixed reaction really.
On the positive side, there’s an element of fun in receiving books that you haven’t personally selected.
The downside is that you could end up with a lot of books which are not to your taste and which you would never have selected for yourself. No matter how good the price of the package sounds, if you end up giving away half of them then it’s money wasted that you could have spent on books you really do want. I may buy another subscription at some point in the future but I’ll know then to be a lot more particular in choosing the service.
What’s been your experience with subscription services? Have you actually read the books you received? Any companies or service providers you would recommend particularly?
59 thoughts on “Book subscription packages – are they worth it?”
Pingback: Time to clear some shelf space… | BookerTalk
I haven’t signed up for one of these although I’m tempted by Heywood Hill. Asymptote sounds great, since like you I’m trying to read more around the world. Still, I’m finding I never lack great suggestions coming from other blogs and have way more ideas about what to read than I have time for. Also, I really read most on my kindle, so when I get paper books, they tend to sit on my shelves.
I think I’m opposite to you these days – I read more on paper than electronically largely because I no longer have to do long trips for work where it became essential to have plenty of books to divert me on flights
I’ve never taken out a book subscription package, although for the same reasons you mention, I am tempted to try the Asymptote Book Club. I think it’s probably the only one where there’s little danger of me receiving a book I already have, too, which is something that’s prevented me from signing up to any others, despite the appeal of ‘mystery’ book post.
Good point Kath, there’s almost zero chance you’ll have read any of the Asymptote books. I haven’t even heard of any of the authors I’ve received so far. Looking at the books from the Bookishly subscription I see I’ve read two out of the three already.
That’s what puts me off things like the Bookishly service. They can’t cater that well to someone who reads widely already.
There are some – Haywood Hill comes to mind – where you talk to the bookshop about your interests etc before they make a selection for you. There’s one in Bath like that – but it comes at a price
I have not signed up for a subscription book service because as much as I like the concept, I think it would stress me out a bit — I’d feel guilty if I didn’t read the books. The one that I have come close to trying is through The Mysterious Bookstore in NYC. They have a few categories from which to choose. Maybe one of these years.
If they offer a short term subscription that might be a way to test it out before committing too much Chris
What a fun post. The Asymptote book club sounds the most appealing of the ones you’ve mentioned – my own reading in translation is nonexistent. And Heaven Ali has also featured it and had success with it on her blog. I already have so much to read that I dare not join a mailing book club! But I’ve been curious.
My reading in translation has taken a dip recently but the book club is a good way to bring it back to my attention
I have never done a book subscription package. It just doesn’t sound right for me. I do know that there is a company in Canada that has a Christmas thing where they send you a collection of individually published short stories. It’s called The Short Story Advent Calendar. Anne over at I’ve Read This book blog read and reviewed each story. She made videos, one per story, so it was fun to watch one each day. It became something to look forward to. Each day for December you get a different short story. That way if you don’t like it you only invested maybe 20 to 30 minutes reading something. That sounds more my speed.
That’s an unusual approach. Unfortunately it wouldn’t work for me because I’m not a fan of short stories but for people who like that form of fiction I could see that being a very well received gift
I’ve always wanted to join a book subscription, but cannot justify the price (I’m a cheap student with no fixed income, help!), but I’ve always been really interested in the Willoughby Book Club. Unfortunately most of these also do not ship to Europe cause they are centered in the US.
I’ve not heard of the Willoughby Book Club but had to go and have a look. Interesting that they have so many packages available to suit different interests. it works out at about £11 a book which would be good value if it was a hardback but less so for paperbacks and its not clear from their site which of these they send
It’s always tricky when calculating whether it’s actually more expensive or not. But I think it’s the one I was most interested in because it ships to where I live!
Understand Ayunda – it’s frustrating isn’t it to learn about great opportunities or tools and then find you can;t take advantage of them just because of where you live
I read (or started reading) Shaun Bythell’s book, but was not tempted to sign up to his or any other subscription service. My reading choices, these days, are informed by recommendations from friends, reviews, blogs such as yours, books I happen to pick up that appeal to me, books referred to in other books…
Having a book randomly picked out for me appeals on one level, as it might broaden the scope of my reading experience. But life is far too short to read everything one would wish to. Recently I have found myself giving up on several promising-sounding books after 100 pages or so, because they just didn’t appeal enough for me to keep on reading. I fear that a subscription would provide me with more such!
As for the old Penguin editions: I have recently read several of these, from my own bookshelves or lent to me by an (older) friend who is going through her bookshelves from the 1960s. I find the print rather small and the pages quite flimsy (they easily come loose). On occasion I have found myself downloading the same book to read in comfort on Kindle!
I know what you mean about the subscription service being a way to broaden your reading. I use my local library for that purpose – if I don’t like it I can just take it back not having spent any money at all!
I looked at the Random Book Club as well after reading the Bythell, but after watching a short video of people being given a selection of books by the bookshop I realised that it wasn’t going to be for me. I had a subscription with Heywood Hill in London for a year. They carry out a very thorough questionnaire about your tastes before you start and I would say that of the twelve books I received ten were excellent choices. I only stopped because it was dictating my reading too much.
I didn’t know you had a Heywood Hill subscription, Cafe Society! That’s where I work, and that’s what I do, all day, every day. Ali, I’m going to very cheekily plug our subscription service to you: as above, we talk to you (or you can fill out the form online) before sending anything, and we match books to your tastes while also trying to find new things that you might not have heard of. It’s (obviously) the best job I’ve ever had.
It must be about four years ago now, Elle. I came down to the shop specifically to talk to the people in charge about what I wanted. I gave them a list of the writers whose works I always read when they were published and then asked them to introduce me to new authors working in similar areas. It was very successful, with only two (for me) duds out of twelve.
Yep, that’s how it works. Although it sounds like you were a lot more prepared than a lot of my current customers! Do you happen to remember which bookseller was in charge of your subscription?
Lucy comes to mind, but I’m not sure.
Hmm. Karin is a short German lady with blonde hair, and Camille is a taller lady with dark hair and round glasses – most likely it was one of those two. I didn’t join until 18 months ago, so I know it wasn’t me!
She left half way through my year so she would have been before your time.
Oh gosh, yes. I’ll have to ask around.
Oh, I’ve got it! It *was* Camille – she came back to us after a few months.
Maybe I should have done a little more investigating before jumping into the Random Book Club. That would have given me a better idea what they had sent out previously. I do this now with book clubs – before joining I ask what the last 3 or 4 books were that they read. Based on that I decide whether its going to work for me
You’d have heard about the Random Book Club from me or Rebecca above, who both reviewed the book by Shaun Bythell quite close to one another. I wast tempted by that but never signed up. I have enough trouble falling into charity shops etc. round here without joining one, though I used to be a member of QPD back in the day – I permanently cancelled their Book of the Month but enjoyed getting good authors in paperback at pb prices when their hardbacks were published.
Thanks for rescuing my failing memory Liz. I came across a radio 4 programme the other day that came from a bookshop in Wigtown. Wonder if its the same one?
I subscribe to Peirene Press and have done so for years. I get three books a year and I know their titles in advance. I generally read at least one (!!) but I know I will read them all eventually because I’ve yet to be disappointed by anything I’ve read. I like the idea of supporting a small independent press.
I’ve bought quite a few Peirenes and have enjoyed the ones I’ve got to so far so their subscription service might be a good option for the future
Bookishly sounds nice – it would be a good one to give as a gift I think. The Random Book one sounds like you aren’t really getting your monies worth there. I would be concerned about getting books that I’ve already read. I did the Peirene Press for a season and really enjoyed all of them.
My sister has given it as a gift to quite a few people apparently and all have enjoyed it though none of them have then continued.
I haven’t been in any kind of book club for decades, and probably wouldn’t because I have so many books already…. I love the idea of the surprise though and the Aymptote appeals if I wasn’t so swamped. I confess, however, that as a stationery addict I subscribe to a monthly stationery box from Papergang and it’s usually gorgeous!
i’ve never got into the stationery thing. I bought some gorgeous looking notebooks on my trips to Asia but they were so beautiful I couldn’t bear to write in them. Defeats the purpose really doesn’t it?
Just as I began to read more literature in translation I learned about the small presses that were surviving through the subscription model and so I decided to take a subscription with Peirene Press. I loved the surprise element and especially there’s no way these books would come across my radar otherwise, the effort they go to research what be of interest to readers and to get them translated is incredible.
They don’t all fit into the category of “books that would have enticed me to go and buy them” but my reading is all the richer for them being on the list and I read nearly every one over the Three years I had the subscription. I haven’t re-subscribed because now I know a few others that specialise in translations, I want to try them as well.
I think the best model is to choose one that fits as closely as possible to your reading preference, or your reading aspirations.
Pereine has a good fan club judging by the comments in here. You did well to read almost all the ones you bought Claire. You mentioned some other publishers specialising in translations – any in particular you would recommend?
I LIKE the idea of a subscription service but have never done one for a few reasons – primarily, I have so many unread books and I should read those before adding more. Secondly, while I want to broaden my reading horizons I don’t want to do it necessarily to the tune of 12 books a year!
So tha I have the joy of an ‘unknown’ book, a couple of times a year I go to a bookshop with the aim of buying a book that I know NOTHING about. I can’t have read a review or heard of the author – it’s resulted in some great reads (amazingly, it’s how I came to buy The Miniaturist – it must have been minutes after it landed in Australia because when I actually started reading a few weeks later, it was being talked about).
That sounds a fun way to experience a bookshop. Of course the more you read and the more you follow blogs, the harder it must get to come across something about which you know nothing. I think the issue of having 12 books is one that is a drawback for a number of folks, hence why they just went for the 3 month package with Asymptote
I would love to receive a book subscription as a gift. Unfortunately, no one who buys for me would even be aware they exist 😊 It’s not something I’d buy for myself.
Can’t you drop a few hints???
I got six books from Persephone. I don’t see these new or second hand in Australia. That was fun. I would like to sign up for Asymptote but sadly Australia is not included in their subscription services. I usually buy books that either Stu or Tony (Tony’s Book World) recommend. But like everyone else I have too many books unread on my shelves. 🤠🐧
I didn’t know Persephone had a subscription service. You’re right – even in the UK I don’t see them second hand.
I think the Asymptote club sounds the most like something I’d try. Sounds like it would help lead me in more adventurous and unexpected directions. But in general it’s more effective for me to pick the books I think I’m likely to read … even though I still end up with unread books on the shelves that way!
Judging by the comments of other people who have the Asymptote subscription, the books are usually ones that they have not come across themselves so yes it has the big advantage of introducing you to completely new authors. But if you don’t actually get around to reading them then its a waste. That’s a hint to me that I had better start reading mine……
Indeed! I feel I should need to do some clearing up of my existing TBR before I embarked on such a venture.
The Asymptote book club subscription is my only experience of subscription book packages although I have been tempted by them in the past. I have read them all so far and have enjoyed being taken outside my comfort zone and reading things I might not have otherwise. So glad I signed up to it.
i think you took out the six months option Ali. Based on that do you think you’ll continue?
Actually I took three months, then when that came to an end, signed up for twelve months. So have a few months of that left.
clearly that was a sign that you were enjoying the experience
Great post! I enjoyed reading about your experiences. As you may remember, from my blog, I have only one Book Subscription-The Nervous Breakdown Book Club. Like most people, I do like getting a surprise package once a month. I feel I am mostly supporting and discovering new or undersung but deserving writers. Actually of the ones I have read, only one was truly a dud for me. However I have quite a few unread. I keep going because some of the books I have gotten were true stunners that I may not ever have read or even heard of.
Not actually a subscription service by a bookshop, but: I love the Tea or Books podcast and support them through Patreon at the Muriel Spark level ($25/month). In return, Simon selects a secondhand book he thinks I’ll love and posts it to me in the US.
In the three months I’ve been doing this, he’s sent me three excellent choices: Vita Sackville-West’s Heritage, Rose Macaulay’s Crewe Train, and Jane Bowles’ Two Serious Ladies. Only one of these was known to me (Crewe Train was on a wishlist); the other two are wonderful finds.
I think the reason this works is that Simon is so knowledgeable to begin with, and he looked closely at my Goodreads and Librarything accounts. It would be hard to recreate this on a large scale – but if anyone could do it, it’s Simon & Rachel.
My only previous experience with surprise subscription services was a yarn club with knitting patterns I received as a gift from my sons. One year was sufficient to decide the club manager and I had different ideas about what constituted interesting patterns.
I listen to them and had no idea! What a cool idea for a patreon perk.
I subscribed to Pushkin Press for a year, and I really liked getting my little surprise package when it came, but even though they were all only novellas I still haven’t read half of them and one (Bullfight, by some Japanese writer) I didn’t like the look of at all.
And as you say, that’s the thing. You inevitably get some books that aren’t to your taste. I can see that in some cases there’s value in broadening one’s horizons, but speaking for myself I have books both read and on the TBR from all over the world now, with recommendations coming from all the widely-read bloggers I know, and from Stu at Winston’s Dad especially.
IMO it’s those personal recommendations that work for me…
Subscription options for me in Canada with shipping and exchange are highly impractical. Add to that the obscene delays with Canada Customs/Post and it’s worse. I have one subscription—Ånd Other Stories—that I’ve had for years. This year of the three books sent, I’ve received two, one which took four months!!! I haven’t read everything yet, and I feel a little frustrated when my subscription funds go to authors who already have attention and support, but that is rare. At one time there was an issue that if a book had a North American publisher, we on this side of the Atlantic were offered a choice of an old title instead. That has been resolved and we now get the UK release. I haven’t read everything, but have dearly loved much and, to date only one has hit the donate box after 30 pages. But for independent US publishers I’d love to support, the same financial and delay issues exist and, because I can readily buy the titles that interest me off the shelf, subscriptions are not practical. I realize that publisher subscriptions directly help fund publications, buying from an independent bookstore is also a very supportive act and my choice in most cases.
Ah, a Random Book Club subscriber! I read about this in Shaun Bythell’s memoir — he runs The Book Shop in Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town. I think I could be tempted since I read from lots of different genres, but it would be more for the experience and to help keep the shop going than that I needed anything more to read! I could always give away or resell anything that truly didn’t appeal.
I’ve just signed my 12-year-old up for six months of books from the Willoughby Book Club (thewilloughbybookclub.co.uk). I was given the opportunity to explain what kind of things she’s into when I signed up. I was a bit worried that they’d either send something obvious like Philip Pullman or Susan Cooper (great but we already have umpteen copies) or something too young/too girly/too rubbish. She’s only received one to date, but so far so good: Gullstruck Island by Francis Hardinge, which we hadn’t come across before. She hasn’t read it yet but it looks right up her street.
Having said that, would I subscribe for myself? Probably not. Not having enough books to read isn’t exactly a problem that I have!