Over the last year, nearly every industry has had major disruptions due to Covid-19. Publishing was no different, facing cancellations of book tours and in-person readings, late book release dates and shipping delays. But book sales also had record highs, with print and e-books purchases skyrocketing in 2020. Stuck at home with little to do, readers consistently kept their pages turning in hopes of lifting their moods. One of those readers was me. As a serious bookworm, I missed browsing at the library and local bookstores for new titles, staff recommendations and inspiration. And I’ve had to get creative about keeping my nightstand stocked with books to read. And then I came across Book of the Month, a curated monthly reading subscription.
Even though I fit squarely into the ‘Millennial’ lifestyle, I’ve never had a subscription service before. And now I feel like I’ve been missing out. I heard about Book of the Month (BOTM) from a dear friend (also a Millennial) and dedicated reader. I am usually skeptical of commercially popular books, but I trusted her taste in literature and thought it might be fun, so I decided to give BOTM a try. My friend was not wrong. BOTM is so fun. As for the selection of books, I was pleasantly surprised to find that every month they featured authors I was definitely interested in reading, like Yaa Gyasi and Bryan Washington. So far, I haven’t wanted to skip a month.
Book of the Month traces back almost one hundred years to 1926, when it launched as a mail-order book service. Over the years, Book of the Month has notably selected some of the most popular books in America, like Song of Solomon, In Cold Blood, and The Catcher in the Rye. And today’s subscription isn’t much different from the original concept.
Here’s how it works: each month, Book of the Month selects five new hardcover titles for subscribers to choose from, all available at the same member price. Members can select one book from that month’s options, potentially add on additional titles from the existing vault and voilá, new books are on the way.
For new subscribers, the first month’s subscription cost is $10. Most hardcover fictions are pricier than that so it’s a pretty good deal for a new release hardcover book with no shipping cost. After that initial month, the price goes up to $15 per month, which is still lower than most hardcover prices. Plus there are member benefits for referring a friend, which can earn you one credit for another month’s book at no additional charge.
Subscriptions are offered by month or year, with gift options available at intervals of three, six, and 12 months. Each month, subscribers can choose a new title from that month’s selection or, if there isn’t one that strikes their fancy, skip that month and roll over to the next month at no charge. Boxes ship within a week or so of ordering.
Each book selected comes in a special Book of the Month-branded book jacket, which looks a bit different from the commercially available version. Each BOTM book option comes in exactly the same size with a small BOTM logo in the upper corner. Notably, BOTM book jackets omit blurbs from other authors. I do miss seeing what other authors say about any given book I’ve chosen, especially if I’m looking to gauge whether I might like the title or not. Having those author blurbs helps me know what the tone and style might be. So I would say this is something to keep in mind but by no means a dealbreaker — at least not for me, anyway.
But speaking of style, I’m someone who likes an eclectic bookshelf. I take pride in the mix-and-match style of titles from new and used bookstores, neighborhood stoops and trades with friends. The BOTM-issue book jacket took a little bit of time for me to get used to. But now that I’m a few months into my subscription and my BOTM shelf is growing, I’m starting to enjoy the uniformity.
I actually liked BOTM so much that I gave it twice as a holiday gift this year, both to rave reviews. Book lovers are also some of the hardest people to shop for and I’m always hard-pressed to pick out titles for my fellow bookworms. The gift book has to be something they haven’t read already (hard) and that I know they will enjoy (still sort of hard). BOTM makes a great gift by relieving the giver of the burden of perfection. Your reader can choose their title each month and have the flexibility to skip or add on other books into their monthly shipment.
With its fun branding and easy cancellation policy, there is not much to dislike about Book of the Month. As a sustainability nerd, though, I have one hesitation: Each book comes in a bit of packaging. For each delivery, there’s the signature blue cardboard box. Inside, your title of the month is set onto another piece of cardboard and the entire thing is wrapped in plastic. This prevents bends and knicks from wrecking the cover while the package is in transit. That’s a welcome perk. But I think a lot about excess waste and at some point I may have to reconsider.
While I love getting a monthly self-given surprise, I do miss visits with my local booksellers. With even the most nationally recognized independent bookstores like The Strand struggling to stay afloat, I’m unlikely to replace those purchases with my Book of the Month subscription. But I will enjoy having at least one new book guaranteed each month. So I’ll definitely be snuggling up with my BOTM subscription as winter comes to an end.