The Bookstore Reading Group
The Bookstore Reading Group:
Members, Support, and Benefits
Submitted to the
Qualitative Studies Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
1999 Convention in New Orleans
Kelli S. Burns
College of Journalism and Communications
University of Florida
408 Fellers Lane
Smyrna, Tennessee 37167
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
The Bookstore Reading Group:
Members, Support, and Benefits
Submitted to the
Qualitative Studies Division
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
1999 Convention in New Orleans
In an era characterized by the use of television and computer technology, an
unlikely cultural phenomenon is occurring. This phenomenon is the reading group,
also called a book club or book group, and it has been gaining momentum among
today's readers. A case study of a women's book club was used to understand how
book clubs serve the needs of members and how bookstores support these needs for
The Bookstore Reading Group: Members, Support, and Benefits
In an era characterized by the use of television and computer technology, an
unlikely cultural phenomenon is occurring in America's bookstores, libraries,
community centers, and homes. This phenomenon is the reading group, also called
a book club or book group, and although the origination of these groups has been
traced back to 1813 (Holmstrom, 1998), the concept has recently been gaining
momentum and recognition as reading groups proliferate among today's readers.
According to Rachel Jacobsen, the author of The Reading Group Handbook, "When
I'm asked how many book groups are out there, I give a totally unempirical
guesstimate of 250,000, a number that's both conservative and growing" (Dahlin,
1996, p. 42). As Christine Caruso of Penguin Publishers stated, "It's not that
reading groups are new. It's just that in the last 15 years or so, they've been
picking up speed" (Dahlin, p. 43).
Contrary to popular belief, reading is not on the decline. In fact, more books
are published today than ever before and the reading of printed books still far
outweighs reading books on CD-ROM or online. According to the Census Bureau,
"While people have been devoting less time to reading newspapers and magazines
over the last decade, they have actually increased the time they spend on books"
(Cregan, 1997, p. B4). The same study found that people have increased their
reading of printed books to an average of 100 hours per year, which represents a
10 percent increase since 1986. Reading is growing in popularity particularly
among "middlebrow" or popular culture readers (Cregan, 1997; Dahlin, 1996;
Radway, 1984; Winkler, 1997).
A natural outgrowth of a pronounced interest in books is a sharing of this
experience through an organized reading group. A reading group generally has 15
or fewer members, meets on a monthly basis, and is composed of women (Dahlin,
1996). The relative lack of interest by men in reading groups is explained by
Lamm who commented that "[M]en of earlier generations avoided reading groups
because they were viewed as too feminine, [but] men of the 1990s do the same
because contemporary reading groups are seen as too feminist" (1996, p. 48).
Bringing together people who share an interest in books, these groups
customarily read one book per month and congregate to explore the book. Members
often choose paperback fiction, with subjects ranging from those that parallel
personal experience to those that contrast it (Dahlin, 1996). Publishers, who
have realized the impact of having one of their books become a popular reading
group selection, support these groups by providing guides that often include a
plot synopsis, an author biography, reviews, further reading suggestions, and
Bookstores have also responded to this cultural trend and are facilitating the
coordination, maintenance, and management of these groups. For example,
bookstores may offer discounts to reading group members, keep directories of
these clubs, or assist clubs with book selection. Many bookstores have also
developed their own reading groups that meet in the bookstores and are often
comprised of bookstore patrons. As the bookstores reach out to local reading
groups or draw people to their stores by forming their own reading groups, they
further create a community for readers, which benefits both the patrons and the
The response by publishers and bookstores suggests that the reading group
market is worth attracting and developing. According to Dahlin, "Something else
on which all players seem to agree is the size of this market. The potential
numbers, albeit unverifiable, are apparently staggering" (1996, p. 42). Although
bookstores have a difficult time quantifying the sales from reading groups,
general consensus is that this is a market worth pursuing. Financial
considerations aside, reading groups serve other worthwhile purposes. As Barbara
Morrow, owner of a bookstore in Vermont stated, "The increase in sales may
sometimes be minuscule, but I feel strongly that we should do everything we can
to support reading" (Dahlin, 1996, p. 45).
The phenomenon of reading groups has received little attention in scholarly
journals. Cregan (1997) credits this lack of attention to the idea that many
literary scholars consider contemporary literature, the choice of many reading
groups, to be of subliterary value and therefore, not worthy of study. Radway
(1988) encountered similar attitudes in her study of the Book-of-the-Month Club.
In an interview with Winkler (1997), Radway suggested that the readers of
today's popular literature might be the people who would not have read for
pleasure at all in earlier years or would have only read magazines. In this
interview, Radway stated, "Maybe we should view that as an expansion of
literacy" (Winkler, p. A18). Cregan expressed similar views when she stated, "I
realize now, however, that this cultural pessimism is unjustified, given the
impact of a movement quietly gaining momentum" (1997, p. B4).
Radway believes that she was the first scholar to demonstrate how a literary
text could be used to reconstruct culture by connecting "particular texts with
the communities that produced and consumed them" and making "an effort to
specify how the individuals involved actually constructed those texts as
meaningful semiotic structure" (1984, p. 4). In studying the cultural practice
of reading groups, we are not attempting to address how reading groups change
culture, but rather how reading groups can be culturally situated on maps of
One can draw a number of parallels between Radway's (1988) findings in her
study of the Book-of-the-Month Club (BOMC) and a reading group. Like the BOMC
editors, reading group participants often receive suggestions for books from
publishers. According to Powell in a commentary of Radway's work, "What is sold
to the membership is not, I would argue, a choice of particular new books, but
rather the Club's taste in books" (1988, p. 179). Both reading groups and the
BOMC strive to reach a higher aesthetic ground, but remain categorized as
"middlebrow." BOMC editors hold certain assumptions about the needs of their
readers, including the desire to have recognizable characters with a statement
about the world that the character and the reader hold in common. They believe
that what is most important to readers is that they can situate the characters'
experiences within their own maps of meaning. Although the BOMC is more closely
linked to the publishing industry than a reading group, publishers are courting
reading groups through the production of reading guides and the supply of free
copies of potential reading group fare to bookstores. In turn, these bookstores
may later choose these books for their own reading group selections.
Long (1987) examined reading groups in terms of the crisis of cultural
authority through an analysis of the process of selecting and interpreting
books. She noted that reading group members use these groups to "mark a boundary
between themselves and their neighbors, and the elite among such reading groups
proudly distinguish themselves from groups who 'only read trash' " (p. 306). In
this study, Long discovered that what is most important to readers is believable
characters who provide readers with meaningful insights into their own lives.
Long noted that although readers choose books above those targeted to the mass
market (in terms of the concept of "brow"), they approach these books in much
the same way that Radway's (1984) readers do, which could be classified as
"middlebrow" or even "lowbrow."
Both Long (1987) in her study of reading groups and Radway (1988) in her study
of the Book-of-the-Month Club place their research against the theoretical
framework of Pierre Bourdieu and his concept of cultural capital. Long noted
that "these reading groups appear to intermingle what Bourdieu calls the
dominant or purified bourgeois aesthetic with more popular approaches to and
evaluations of literature" (p. 308). Long called for further investigation
between social class and cultural choices.
The purpose of this study was to understand how reading groups negotiate the
cultural needs of their members and how bookstores support and maintain these
cultural needs for the benefit of their customers and their own self-interests.
This was accomplished not by looking at the media product itself, but by
examining the way the media product is used to create meaning in the lives of
This study poses two categories of research questions. First, this research
will examine the demographics of a reading group's membership, the role of
reading in their lives, and the motivations for participating in such a group.
In doing so, this research will address the function of a reading group in the
lives of its members, the role members believe they are playing in furthering
the appreciation of literature in society, and the characteristics of someone
who joins a reading group, in terms of demographics and reading habits.
The second set of questions concerns how the bookstore serves both the needs of
the reading group and its own self-interests by sponsoring reading groups. In
answering these questions, this research will seek an understanding of how a
bookstore supports a reading group, the role of the reading group coordinator,
and how the bookstore benefits from supporting reading groups.
Methods and Procedures
A study of the Women's Book Club at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville,
Tennessee, enabled an examination of the above research questions. This group
meets in two sections every other month to discuss the same book, which gives
members the option of attending a daytime meeting or an evening meeting. This
research focused on members of both sections. Davis-Kidd Booksellers and Kathy
Schultenover, the book club coordinator, organize this group. The qualitative
methods used in this research were participant observation, questionnaires,
in-depth interviews, textual analysis, and a key informant interview.
Participant observation was conducted during the March 1998 meetings of the
Women's Book Club in order to observe the structure and dynamics of the group as
well as the types of members it attracts. In addition, I observed how the
bookstore visually promotes their reading groups.
A questionnaire was distributed to the members of both the morning and evening
sections in an effort to learn more about the composition of the groups. Besides
demographic data, participants were also asked about their reading habits, their
membership in the reading group, and their relationship to Davis-Kidd
Booksellers. Nine members of each section (for a total of eighteen) completed
the questionnaire. Of the morning section, only one member could not complete
the survey, while three members of the evening section did not participate.
On the questionnaire, respondents indicated whether they would be interested in
participating in an in-depth interview. Of the eighteen respondents, eight
volunteered for in-depth interviews, five of these volunteers were from the
morning section and three from the evening section.
Although participants were given the option of conducting the interview by
telephone or in person, all chose to be interviewed by phone. The purpose of
these interviews was to seek a deeper understanding of the motivations for
joining a reading group and the function of the reading group in the lives of
members. The members' perception of the importance of reading and their role in
furthering the appreciation of literature were also explored.
The in-depth interviews lasted approximately thirty minutes. For many of these
interviews, an initial call was made, an appointment was scheduled, and the
participant was called at a later time or date. During these interviews, either
extensive notes were taken then later transcribed or the information was typed
directly into a computer.
In addition to the in-depth interviews, I conducted a key informant interview
with Kathy Schultenover, the coordinator and discussion leader for Davis-Kidd's
book clubs. This interview explored how a bookstore supports reading groups, the
role of the reading group coordinator, and the process of selecting books. The
benefits of an in-house reading group program for reading group members, the
bookstore, and other customers were also examined.
The textual analysis examined the monthly Davis-Kidd newsletters and various
brochures and fliers produced by Schultenover. These pieces are used to either
promote the reading groups themselves or selections that the reading groups have
read or plan to read.
Because two sections of the Davis-Kidd Women's Book Club were studied, the
findings can be interpreted in two ways. First, the two groups can be analyzed
as a composite of the total membership of both Women's Book Clubs and secondly,
the membership of these two groups can be compared and contrasted. Because these
groups are small and regular members of one section may attend another section
occasionally, I will discuss the two sections together, but point out
differences when appropriate.
Eight women from the two sections of the Davis-Kidd Women's Book Club were
interviewed. The women from the morning section were:
y Meredith, a married woman who lives in a retirement community
y Carolyn, a middle-aged, married woman with a master's degree
y Anna, an older woman who works part-time as a realtor
y Betsy, a married, freelance camera assistant
y Shelley, a middle-aged, married medical practice manager
The women from the evening group were:
y Della, a young, married graphic artist
y Catherine, young, single woman who works full-time
y Melinda, a middle-aged nurse
All members surveyed and interviewed were women. Because this club is a women's
reading group, men will tend to be less represented than in other reading
groups. As Della stated, "We don't get many men." In general, the phenomenon of
reading groups tends to attract more women than men (Dahlin, 1996).
Members of both groups tend to be middle-aged and married. The youngest member
in the morning section is in the 35-44 age category and this group has three
members in the over 65 age category. In contrast, the evening group has one
member under age 25 and no members older than 55. However, both groups have the
highest concentration of members in the 45-54 age category. All members of the
morning section were married, except one who was recently widowed. The evening
group had a combination of single, married, and divorced women.
All members in the morning section either work part-time, stay at home, or are
retired. Most members of the evening section work full-time, however one member
works part-time and another is staying at home. These personal situations
explain why two sections of this book club are useful.
The members have high levels of education and all but one have either a college
degree or a two-year degree. All members have completed at least some college.
Many have master's degrees and a few have completed some postgraduate work. The
highest concentration of members in the morning section have master's degrees
(presumably in education because some of the members are retired teachers) and
the highest concentration of members in the evening section have bachelor's
degrees. The evening group contained a number of professionals including an
accountant, an attorney, and two managers.
Some of the members discussed what kind of person is involved in a reading
group. Betsy described this type of person as "somebody who perhaps is
thoughtful, reflective, willing to delve a little deeper than the surface."
Reading, Discussing, and Listening
Many members of the David Kidd Women's Book Club decided to join a reading
group because they enjoy not only reading, but also discussing what they read
and listening to the opinions of others. As coordinator Kathy Schultenover
stated, "Group members like to read and they like to talk about what they read.
There is a difference_My husband likes to read, but he doesn't like to talk
about what he's read." Reading groups combine a passion for reading with the
opportunity to discuss and share ideas. In doing so, reading groups provide
members with a unique way to broaden and enhance their experience of the book.
What is remarkable about the role of reading in the lives of members is that it
is more than just a hobby, but a passion and an integral part of their lives.
The members are all heavy readers, with many reading at least one or two books
per month outside the book club selection and many spending a minimum of 7-9
hours per week reading. A few members read at least 14 hours a week. Most
members have been reading for pleasure since they were children.
As Della responded in the in-depth interview, "Reading is a priority in my
life_It is the cheapest vacation I can take. It has always been an important
part of my life_I have missed work or stayed up all night when something came
out that I really wanted to read." Meredith also mentioned her commitment to
reading: "I love to read_It's a long term interest of mine." Carolyn responded
that reading "is a necessity. I read all the time. I was just brought up that
way." Anna said, "I have people saying to me, 'You sure do read a lot.' I have
always enjoyed reading_It's something that is very much a part of my life and it
has been since I can remember." Betsy described herself as a "life-long avid
reader." Shelley said, "I think everybody who knows me knows that I love to
read_I read all the time. I have a book in the car for the carpool line."
In answering the question "What was the primary reason you joined this group?"
on the questionnaire, almost every member cited the combination of the love of
reading and discussion of the books. For example, specific answers to this
question included, "To discuss what I read," "Love to read and discuss," "Love
to read, love to talk about books," "To talk about books I've read and liked,"
and "To share ideas with other women." Many cited that "discussion" is what they
like best about this reading group. Another echoed this sentiment in her
statement: "The books, the people, the intelligent discussion of a thing I
love-reading." These themes were not only present in the questionnaires, but
also in the in-depth interviews. Shelley noted that she was looking for "people
to talk with about the books I was reading." Catherine said that she has "always
been interested in books and enjoy[s] being able to talk about them."
Members are interested in not only sharing their ideas, but also listening to
the ideas of others. Some women stated that they liked the reading group for its
"diversity of opinion" or for the opportunity to "hear comments from other
members." These themes reverberated in the in-depth interviews with members of
these two sections of the Women's Book Club. Della "enjoy[s] the exchange of
ideas." Carolyn responded that in the group, she gets to "hear different views
on what we read. It is interesting to hear different perspectives brought to the
table because of our various backgrounds." Meredith "enjoy[s] being in a group
and hearing other educated opinions." Betsy found that "it's even more enjoyable
to be able to share what you read and get other people's insights." Catherine
listed a benefit of the group as "hearing other people's ideas." The desire to
discuss and share opinions is an extension of the reading experience and a way
to allow readers the opportunity to explore and consume the book at several
Reading groups serve to provide members with a unique literary experience by
exposing them to books that they would not have encountered themselves. As a
result, some members joined the reading group in search of a way to broaden
their literary horizons. A bookstore reading group, such as the Women's Book
Club at Davis-Kidd, places members in the midst of new and exciting literature.
Kathy Schultenover discussed how the books are selected: "Being a bookseller,
you are aware of what's out there because you work with it everyday_I look at
the New York Times book reviews for book ideas. Also, book publishers are
beginning to push more of their books. As a result of these publicity pushes, we
are getting more books in."
Responses to the question "What do you like best about the group?" on the
questionnaire revealed the interest of members in broadening their literary
horizons. One member stated that she liked the "exposure to books I would not
have otherwise read."
Responses in the in-depth interviews also reflected this motivation to join a
reading group or the benefit members receive through their association with a
reading group. Betsy noted that the benefit she receives is that "lots of times
it is reading books that I normally might not have chosen. It's a neat benefit
to kind of broaden your horizons sometimes." Shelley said, "There are thousands
of books that are published everyday and when you are in a reading group, you
read things you would not have read otherwise." Catherine stated, "A lot of
times the books will be ones that I would not have picked for myself to read. It
kind of gets me to read some things that I probably wouldn't pick up for
myself." Anna believes that the reading group "entices me to read books that I
wouldn't have otherwise read. It broadens my horizons." Carolyn responded that
"the books they read aren't ones I normally read. It has broadened my
reading_Through this group I'm forced to read books other than those I would
choose." Della felt that the reading group has "encouraged me to read books I
never would have on my own. I was an English major in college and there are
major pieces of literature I haven't read. It also allows me to read in a
totally different light." Melinda also expressed this sentiment when she stated,
"I figured it_might expose me to books that my little group (her other reading
group) wouldn't have the incentive to pick up."
The broadening of horizons is provided through exposure to new books and
authors, but a reading group also broadens horizons by providing members with a
means to mental stimulation and a way to learn from both the book and through
others' interpretations of the book. As Meredith, a retired member, stated, "It
is very satisfying to keep the brain cells active. Mental stimulation is the
greatest satisfaction." Della found that "It's interesting to learn from people
who may have taken a different look." Shelley perceived the purpose of the group
to be an "intellectual outlet to discuss books." These members are not only
seeking to broaden their horizons, but also to stimulate their minds.
Reading groups build on the passion of its members by encouraging them to expand
their horizons through new challenges. In this sense, reading can be compared to
other activities. It is likely that someone whose true passion is running, for
example, will strive to improve her distance or her speed. Possibly this person
will enter races to compete against others or read about the latest techniques
in the sport. Reading is similar in that a passionate reader will have the
desire to improve by exposing herself to other readers as well as new and
challenging books and authors.
Some members joined the reading group to interact with other people who share
common interests. For those who love certain types of books, particular authors,
or just reading in general, reading groups allow readers the opportunity to
connect with other readers. As Kathy Schultenover assessed, "For those members
who don't work outside the home, they sometimes just want to stay involved in
something. For some, it's become a social thing. The group discussions we have
help everyone get to know each other. It can really fill a need in some people's
lives." Because other social options are available to most people, social
interaction is probably not the primary reason people join bookstore reading
groups. However, the possibility for social interaction may be an added benefit
to being a member of a bookstore reading group. In contrast, other reading
groups may have social interaction as the primary goal, and the discussion of
books serves as merely a reason to congregate. As Betsy noted, "My other book
club seems to be a little more social. Sometimes we'll discuss a book and
sometimes we won't."
The in-depth interviews revealed the interest of some of the members in having a
social interaction. Members specifically commented on the type of people in the
reading group. Betsy remarked that "the people you meet are interesting." Anna
commented that "I get to meet a lot of very interesting people through this
group. For example, Betsy is a camera person for films. She shot one of Oprah's
latest films. A lot of people come from all sorts of backgrounds. It's a very
diverse group." Melinda noted that "the mundane conversations of humanity drove
me to seek other groups of people."
Shelley noted how she has "met one woman that I do things with outside the
group" and she specifically mentioned that she and this fellow member share an
interest in gardening. Catherine, a younger, single member, enjoys the social
aspect of the group. "I enjoy getting together with these people." Carolyn
stated that "I've made a lot of new acquaintances which is good since I'm new to
the area." She also noted that she has "developed several friendships. There is
one girl that I see socially." Melinda felt that "the book club allows me the
next ring out of a circle of friends_You do bond. You need different levels of
Some members use the reading group as a way to interact with friends. Many of
the members learned about the group through a friend who was a member or joined
with a friend. As Anna stated, "I already knew several people in the group
before I became a member." Della joined with a friend and "my friend brought
another friend and she joins us for dinner (before the meeting). The three of us
have all gotten to be better friends."
Although some members are looking for social interaction, others do not fill
that need through the reading group. As Melinda described, "One girl constantly
tries to corral us to go to other activities_Some of us don't mingle in that
way. I prefer to do things with my family." A basic requirement for reading
groups, in terms of social interaction, may be, as Melinda stated, "You have to
like the people you're with."
The Key to Unlocking Yourself
Interestingly, members did not discuss the need to learn more about themselves
through reading and discussing books. Other literature has referred to this
experience (Long, 1987). For example, a reading group member described in an
article how "reading a book with a group actually helps her to understand
herself better because she can contrast her own experience to that of others"
(Burden, 1994). Although the Davis-Kidd Women's Book Club members did not
address this motivation, their discussion during their meeting illustrates this
During this meeting, the members attempted to understand the relationships of
the characters in the book and often reflected upon their own experiences. They
discussed the role of their women friends and whether their husbands and
families had filled this need for them. One member said, "I feel that I've moved
on. I've cut the ties with school friends." Another member reflected on how
reading the selected book had encouraged her to branch out and build female
friendships. In this way, the members are trying to fit the book into their own
frameworks for understanding and use the book to understand themselves better by
looking for ways to incorporate the lessons of the book into their own lives.
Kathy Schultenover addressed how the discussion of personal experiences is
often a problem with the reading groups. She emphasized her role: "At times, our
discussion can get personal and confessional. I try to keep the conversation
from getting too personal. I try to keep us focused on the book." As mentioned
previously, the members tended to relate the book to their own lives in an
effort to make sense of the characters and the plot. This process appears to
fulfill a need for them, both as a confessional outlet and as a way to unlock
their inner selves.
The Appeal of Davis-Kidd
Readers interested in participating in a reading group have a number of options
available to them. One of these options is a bookstore reading group. Over half
of the members in the Women's Book Club are involved in other reading groups,
some of which are sponsored by David-Kidd. The in-depth interviews revealed how
the groups at Davis-Kidd fill a certain need for participants. Before outlining
these needs, a description of the bookstore is useful at this point.
Davis-Kidd Booksellers was founded by Louise Davis and Thelma Kidd of Nashville
and has other locations in Memphis and Jackson, Tennessee. Since Davis-Kidd
opened their Nashville store, other large bookstores have entered the Nashville
market, including Barnes and Noble, Media Play, and Books a Million.
Surprisingly, these national bookstore giants have not threatened Davis-Kidd's
existence as a result of the bookstore's strong presence in the market.
Davis-Kidd is the only large bookstore serving the upscale and affluent Green
Hills area of Nashville. It houses the Second Story Caf , a popular spot for
lunch and dinner, and offers Writers' Nights on Fridays, Saturday Children's
Programs, and book signings. The monthly newsletter highlights a number of these
activities. In a sense, Davis-Kidd serves as the cultural center for the Green
Hills area. As Kathy Schultenover described, "There were so many other things
taking place in the store and it seemed like a marketing event to have a book
The reading groups at Davis-Kidd are accessible and well-publicized. Unless a
person is already aware of an existing group that would welcome new members or
starts one herself, the options to join a reading group are limited. The
bookstore provides access to an established group with open membership. As
Schultenover described, "There are no rules, no guidelines, no registration
fees." Della discussed the accessibility and convenience of the Davis-Kidd book
clubs: "I have a friend who was also interested and we tried to start one
together in our neighborhood. We had a hard time recruiting people_We noticed
Davis-Kidd has a reading group and we thought, 'Maybe we should join.' " In
fact, many of the members joined because they saw a notice or the book club
display in the store, contacted the store, or located the information on the
store's Web site.
Others were attracted to the Davis-Kidd Women's Book Club because they were
interested in reading about specifically women's issues. Carolyn stated that she
"was interested in reading books that address women's issues without being
ultra-feminist. There are other women's groups out there, but they are much more
radical in their feminist stance." At Davis-Kidd, Schultenover, the book club
coordinator, is also responsible for shelving women's books. Therefore, she is
knowledgeable about women's literature and a good source of information for the
The idea of meeting in a public place appealed to some members. As Shelley
described, "It's not in anybody's home so you can say what you feel about it. If
you're at someone's house, you don't want to offend the host. It's nice in a
The appeal of Davis-Kidd as a store attracted some to the book clubs. As
Catherine described, "I just really like Davis-Kidd. I like the store a lot_I
think Davis-Kidd is an awesome store and they really contribute so much to the
community." Shelley simply stated, "I like Davis-Kidd." Because the store has
been successful in creating a strong presence in the market and developed a
mini-community among its clientele, it attracts people who want to belong.
Reading Groups and Society
Many members felt that the presence of reading groups has had a positive
influence on society. One of the benefits of a reading group is that it
encourages people to read. Catherine felt that "maybe some of these people
didn't read that much and maybe this encourages some people to read more." Anna
expressed her opinion on the same issue: "I think book clubs are great
influences on society. Look at what Oprah's book club has done for reading
across the country." Some of the women felt that reading groups have only a
positive influence on the members. Schultenover would disagree: "We have a
tremendous number of peripheral sales. Even people who are not involved in
groups see our book club selection displays and buy the books that are
displayed. They figure the books must be good if a book club is reading them."
By challenging all readers to broaden their horizons, the influence of reading
groups extends outside the membership.
The support from the bookstore facilitates the continued success of a bookstore
reading group. One of the ways that a bookstore reading group can differentiate
itself from other reading groups is to have a skilled facilitator to lead the
group discussions and coordinate the book selections. Kathy Schultenover serves
as the book club coordinator for Davis-Kidd. In facilitating the groups,
Schultenover provides a well-researched background on the author, helps the
members stay focused on the topic of discussion, asks a number of probing
questions to force the members to think about the issues, and keeps members
abreast of upcoming programs. For example, in the meeting observed in this
research, Kathy asked the members, "What made this book a phenomenon?" and "Why
didn't you like it?" She also focused the members' attention on the structure of
the book. On a personal note, Schultenover is a former English teacher and
appears knowledgeable about books and authors. She is attractive, well-dressed,
and fits with the image that the store projects and the kind of customers they
In asking members what they liked best about the group, the responses included
"Kathy," "Kathy is a great facilitator," and "The leader takes active
leadership." The in-depth interviews revealed more about the important role of
the coordinator and the difference it makes in the satisfaction of the members.
Della said, "It's great that Kathy is so involved. I am very impressed with
Kathy." Meredith stated that "Kathy is an excellent leader." Melinda commented,
"Kathy is very devoted and committed and comes in more than adequately prepared.
She is great." Carolyn stated, "They provide an excellent moderator in Kathy,
too. She is great." Anna said, "They pay the facilitator to work with us. Kathy
does a super job." Betsy explained that she joined because "I really like her
(Kathy's) book selections." Catherine remarked that "Kathy is just super. She
does a tremendous amount of work preparing for the group_Her love of reading
carries over to the group." In Schultenover, Davis-Kidd has provided a leader
who attracts new members and keeps members involved and interested.
Davis-Kidd also provides a meeting place for the group in the atrium of Grace's
Plaza, in which Davis-Kidd is the anchor store. The atrium is a bright, sunlit
area where patrons of the Second Story Caf often sit. Davis-Kidd also often
uses this area for book signings, children's programs, and guest speakers. The
book club members sit around a table at the end of the atrium. The area appears
to be too open for an intimate meeting and is highly trafficked by patrons of
the bookstore and various other shops, UPS delivery people, and service people.
While attending the group meeting, the conversation was disturbed at several
times by loud noises in the atrium and attention was diverted as the members
watched the activity. In the in-depth interviews, many of the members commented
on the meeting place. Della said, "The atrium is noisy and you miss a lot of
what is said." If Davis-Kidd wanted to continue to increase their support of
book clubs, they should consider another area for their meetings.
The bookstore provides a display with the book club selections and reading
guides. This display allows members an opportunity to quickly select the book
for the next meeting, see what the other book clubs are reading, and pick up
printed literature about the books.
Davis-Kidd also offers reading group members a 15 percent discount on the
monthly selection, which was mentioned as an added benefit by many of the
members. As Meredith said, "Davis-Kidd makes it attractive. They give a nice
discount." Members also receive a free cup of coffee. The bookstore is also able
to attract the occasional guest speaker to their meetings. As Shelley described,
"They frequently tie in the book clubs with guest speakers that are coming.
We've had some authors come and discuss their books with us." Through the guest
speakers, Davis-Kidd provides something that independent reading groups cannot.
The bookstore also sends out a postcard each month to inform members of upcoming
meetings. The fact that many of the members mentioned these benefits
demonstrates the degree to which members appreciate these value-added extras.
The reading groups also allow members an opportunity to hear about other
activities in the store. As Anna described, "We hear about book signings and
authors coming to speak." This involvement helps to further build the community
between the members and the bookstore.
Benefits to the Bookstore
Bookstores, like Davis-Kidd, have realized that sponsoring reading groups not
only provides benefits to the members, but also are an asset to the bookstore.
Additional activities and services provided by any business can mean an increase
in sales, or a reduction in the threat of a loss of sales. For Davis-Kidd,
reading groups are one way to remain competitive and increase customer
satisfaction and loyalty.
One of the benefits to bookstores in sponsoring reading groups is that the
meetings bring patrons into the store. Members are not required to buy the books
for the Davis-Kidd reading groups at the store, but the 15 percent discount
makes this option attractive to them. Following the meeting, many of the members
shopped in Davis-Kidd and left with purchases. In her interview, Della discussed
how she meets with two other members for dinner in the Second Story Caf prior
to the evening reading group meeting. Meredith said, "I pick up their monthly
handout. I find lots of other books_I hardly don't go in there when I don't buy
a book, or greeting cards, or have lunch." The data from the questionnaire
revealed how some reading group members have patronized the bookstore in new or
more ways since joining the book club. Some of these ways include browsing
through book selections, purchasing a specific book or gift item, dining in the
caf , or attending special events in the store. Although the book clubs serves
many purposes, one purpose is that they are a reason for a customer to go into
the store, which increases the likelihood that they will leave with a purchase.
Offering reading groups helps to sell books not only to reading group members,
but also to other bookstore patrons. As Melinda observed, "People also hear
what's on the reading list and buy those books." As described earlier,
Schultenover has noticed that people who are not in Davis-Kidd reading groups
are buying the selections, which has resulted in a tremendous number of
peripheral sales. For example, the Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which was
the Women's Book Club March selection, sold 310 copies in two months while on
display in Davis-Kidd.
Davis-Kidd also offers a registry to other reading groups in the area, which
includes a 15 percent discount on selections. In doing so, both the bookstore
and the outside reading groups benefit. These customers receive the discount and
Davis-Kidd has another way to attract customers to the store, customers who may
purchase more than just this reading group selection.
The reading groups also help to strengthen relations between the bookstore and
the community. As Melinda described, "I feel it's almost like a support group, a
cause they (Davis-Kidd) have taken on to provide to the community which they
have no cause or reason to take on." Catherine felt that "Just that they sponsor
these groups. That's important_They really contribute to the community. They go
so far above what they have to do as a business." Customers of the bookstore,
whether book club members or not, have an opportunity to observe the many ways
that Davis-Kidd provides additional support for readers through book clubs and
other activities. In doing so, it raises the profile of the bookstore in the
eyes of customers. Davis-Kidd benefits by acquiring a reputation that it is
concerned about the community, which is important at a time when national
competitors have been entering the market.
Reading groups tend to attract a specialized segment of the reading population
and a bookstore reading group possibly attracts an even more specialized
segment. This desire to read, discuss, and listen emerged as the primary
motivating force for members to join a reading group and a bookstore reading
group may be the most likely choice for people seeking this type of experience.
Members perceive the bookstore group to be one organized around the discussion
of a book and likely to fulfill a need to share the experience of a book with
others. As Melinda stated, "I figured it would be serious, with a time limit so
that people wouldn't get carried away." In contrast, other reading groups,
particularly those organized by a group of friends, may seek to fulfill the
social needs of its members. Although a bookstore reading group may achieve
these other needs, the primary need it fulfills for its members is a gratifying
literary experience through the opportunity to read, discuss, and listen to
opinions about a book.
Reading groups are an extension of a number of greater human needs-the need to
connect with others, share experiences, discover oneself, and learn from each
another. Although reading group members share an intense passion for books, the
groups are really not as much about books as they seem on the surface. The books
are merely a means to an end that all members are seeking.
As Grodin (1991) found, readers of self-help books use these books to socially
construct themselves through a connection with others who have similar problems.
Similarly, Chodorow (1978) and Gilligan (1982) found that women create their
identities through relationships with others. These reading group members are
transforming the text to produce meaning in their own lives. The meaning is
being produced through interactions with other people and association with a
The bookstore serves as a cultural authority for reading group members. The
members reported an interest in seeking a broader literary horizon and are
turning to Davis-Kidd to define these cultural boundaries. Similar to Long's
(1987) findings, these readers are seeking a higher cultural ground than mass
market literature. Their dependence on Davis-Kidd helps to further strengthen
the relationship between the bookstore and its patrons.
A bookstore such as Davis-Kidd is a perfect complement to fulfill the cultural
needs of its customers. In doing so, a bookstore supports the needs of its
patrons as it serves its own needs. Davis-Kidd is a community of intellectual
and cultured people, and its customers want to be enveloped by that community.
Just as they are searching to connect with others through a reading group, they
are searching for community in a place to call their own.
In building a community for readers, Davis-Kidd is balancing commercial
interests with cultural ones. The findings of this study suggest that this
strategy may be an appropriate choice-one that will support both the bookstore's
commercial and cultural goals. This strategy takes advantage of the needs of
customers and the loyalty the bookstore seeks from its patrons. In the end,
customers will have a community that serves their cultural interests and the
bookstore will have a community that supports their commercial interests.
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