October 10th, 2010 by Mike Fulton
Posted in eBook Publishing

When I was a kid, I saw an ad for the Science Fiction Book Club in the back of a magazine. I had already been a member of the Columbia Record Club and they both worked in pretty much the same way. You would join by selecting some number of books (or record albums) from a list in the ad. It would be something like 6 books or 11 records for $1.00 plus shipping. The record club also offered a choice of cassettes and 8-track tapes. In order to qualify for this great deal you had to agree to buy some particular number of additional books (or records) over the next 2 years “at regular member prices”.

Some 6-8 weeks after joining, your selections would arrive in the mail. Also included would be an invoice for the shipping of your sign-up selection, and a small catalog featuring the “Selection of the Month”. The invoice was also an order form where you could enter the codes for whatever you might want to order from the catalog. You would also choose if you wanted to receive the “Selection of the Month” or not. By default, if you did not send back the form telling them that you didn’t want it within 30 days, they would send it to you and bill you for it. This whole “send back the form or we’ll automatically send you the next book” thing was really the only bad thing about the club, because otherwise it was actually a pretty good deal. You got a decent selection up front, and in general the “member price” plus shipping for most books added up to be about the same as you’d pay in a regular retail store. Plus there were a lot of good special deals and after you’d purchased the minimum number of books to fulfill your membership requirement, you’d get a variety of buy-one-get-one-free and other such offers.

One of my favorite things about the Science Fiction Book Club was that they offered a variety of omnibus editions for popular series that weren’t available through regular retail channels. An omnibus edition is where you collect multiple books originally published one by one into a single volume. So for example, in my original order I got the “Dragonriders of Pern” and the “Harper Hall Of Pern” each of which were collections of 3 books in the original series by Anne McCaffrey.

Another thing I always liked best about the Science Fiction Book Club in the old days was the way that the monthly catalog would provide a wealth of information about new science fiction and fantasy books and authors I’d not heard of yet. When I go looking for Kindle books on Amazon’s website, there’s nothing even remotely close to that same level of news and information.

Recently, I was browsing around on Facebook when I saw that a friend had just “liked” the Science Fiction Book Club. I hadn’t heard anything about the club in many, many years, so I was intrigued and decided to go check out their website. What I found was just about as direct a translation from the magazine ad from 30+ years ago as you could possibly imagine. Even the price was the same… 5 books for $1.00.

I started looking around, thinking maybe this would be a good idea, and slowly it dawned on me that there was no option anywhere for getting books in electronic form. Everything I saw was all about a regular paper edition.


The entire club is based around a form of literature in which futuristic technology is a predominant theme, and they don’t offer their customers the option of books in electronic format? What’s even worse is the fact that they don’t even seem to be aware that something like an “eBook” even exists. If you do a search for ‘eBook’ it comes up with zero hits. They don’t even have an FAQ entry explaining that eBooks aren’t available.

I don’t know why they’ve got this technological blind spot, but I feel that the Science Fiction Book Club is missing a golden opportunity. With just a few changes to their current setup, they could become a primary source for science fiction and fantasy books in electronic format.

As fondly as I remember it from the old days, I would never even consider joining the Science Fiction Book Club as it currently stands. With certain particular exceptions, I’m simply not buying paper-based books any more.

eBooks are where the future lies. Come on, Science Fiction Book Club, join the future!