Celebrity Book Clubs: What’s the Deal and What Can We Learn?
Even in an all-digital world, book clubs still reign. Are you doubting me right now? Google “celebrity book clubs” and see what comes up. All the top media outlets talk about them, and the social media world loves to chatter about which celebrity is reading what.
I got really interested in which famous folks are readers and which have book clubs for a couple reasons. One, I think it says so much about a person if they choose to spend time with a book. In a world that has a zillion other flashy distractions, it takes intention and dedication to read–and even more so, to share that love of reading with others.
But secondly, the buzz about celebrity book clubs reminds me that reading is not a solo activity. Sure, we physically read a book by ourselves–but few people desire to stay isolated in that. As we take in the information, we want to talk about it. Our instinct is to dialogue about its big ideas and share its coolest scenes. To know that other people are reading alongside you–like in a book club–hits at that natural desire to be in community, to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
So, I went digging and found a list of some celebrities who have book clubs. As you can imagine, some are more traditional than others. (Everything gets a little non-conventional when you throw in hashtags, I guess.) There’s immense value in knowing what culture’s tastemakers are choosing to read.
Perhaps the most well-known book clubber of all time is Oprah. Oprah’s Book Club began in 1996 and ran for almost 15 years, closing its doors in 2011. It recommended one book, usually a novel, each month–and held the power to launch those book sales sky high. The “Oprah’s Book Club” sticker was (and still is) a coveted book cover item, one with as much prestige (in some circles) as bestseller status. The “Oprah Effect” was coined, with power proven to skyrocket sales–at times, by the millions–and turn an obscure title into a bestseller. There’s currently an Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, which started in 2012 with the launch of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. This new initiative is owned by OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) and O Magazine.
“Our Sacred Shelf” is the name of Emma Watson’s “feminist” book club, which officially started earlier this year. Watson (“Hermione,” for those who know Harry Potter better than Hollywood) is a UN Women Goodwill ambassador, and as part of this role, she’s declared that she’s going to “read as many books about gender equality as she can get her hands on.” Group conversation about each book will happen through Goodreads, and the member list of 40,000+ includes such stars as Sophia Bush and Kate Voegele.
Zuckerberg’s book club stemmed from his January 2015 declaration that he’d read a new book every other week for that entire year–“with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories, and technologies.” He made a Facebook page called “A Year Of Books,” on which he shared what books he was reading and invited others to join him and then dialogue. He also did live Q&As with authors and other special events. That Facebook page–even though the “year of books” is over–still has almost 700,000 likes.
Witherspoon, more than once recently, has been referred to as a champion of literature. In fact, of the upcoming projects within her production company, Pacific Standard, more than half are based on books by female authors. Reese posts about books often on Instagram, usually using the hashtag #RWbookclub. And that’s all. The hashtag is the club. Even without structure or formality, this book group has taken off and given great life to formerly little-known books. Vogue says that Witherspoon’s Instagram posts “have become the equivalent of an Oprah’s Book Club stamp for the social media generation.”
Luck, quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts, has been an avid reader for as long as he’s been on the field. Apparently, he loves to suggest books to his friends and teammates, which led to the media spotlight (We all love a nerdy quarterback, you know?), and sparked the idea for an even bigger platform to share his love for reading. Luck posts his favorite reads on AndrewLuckBookClub.com and encourages participants to share their thoughts on each book with #ALbookclub. It’s a relatively new initiative, but Luck has growing social media numbers.
Lena Dunham is another young Hollywooder with a love for books… and a book club, of sorts. Best known for her work as creator, writer, and actress in HBO’s Girls, Lena has also written a book and runs Lenny Letters–a rapidly-growing email newsletter aimed at young girls. It covers the gamut of topics, but highlights lots of… you guessed it… books. She features her favorites in each newsletter, inviting discussion and participation. Also, fun tidbit, she just started a new imprint at Random House called Lenny Books.
Ok, now that this post has been like an issue of People magazine, you’re probably wondering, “So what?” The truth, though, is that there’s a lot we can learn.
What is there to learn?
What’s trending in books. Celebrities start the trends. Hollywood is at the forefront–whether for good or for bad–of what our culture defines as “cool.” Keeping an eye on what books these celebrities are pushing is a great way to know what’s popular in terms of topics, covers, authors, and more. Pay attention, especially, if it’s your target audience that’s involved in these book clubs.
The effect of influencers. It’s fascinating to see what effect these celebrities (at least, the big ones) have on book sales. Keep an eye on what Witherspoon is promoting, or Oprah. Chances are those books might also be on the front tables at your local bookstore–and perhaps also high-ranked on Amazon. If you see a big effect, you have to wonder… How can I get my book in front of Reese? (No idea is too out there!) Influencer promotion is one of your most powerful sales engines.
Fan communication. In theory, celebrities have mastered the art of online fan communication–at least, the ones who read and promote literature are pretty good at it. Follow them on social to see how they talk to their people, how they promote books, how they encourage dialogue around a topic. Let their messaging and rhythm be food for thought as you develop your own.
People still rally around a book. Even in the internet age, people still love to gather around the written word. The prominence and influence of these book clubs show that whether digitally through a screen or face to face, humans like to participate in reading as a group activity and thrive on discussing that book’s big ideas. Marketing tactics that revolve around forming community are powerful.Even in the internet age, people still love to gather around the written word. Click To Tweet