this weekAll in Good Time

October 24, 2004

___-of-the-Month Clubs

Old marketing gimmicks never die

When I am unable to visit my parents at Christmas, which is more often than not, we generally exchange gifts through the mail. Or at least we did for a number of years. Then, as the internet evolved, my parents and I started sending each other boxes of wrapped gifts from Amazon.com. One-click shopping beats mall crowds and lines at the post office any day. A couple of years ago, though, in place of books or DVDs, my wife and I got a letter in the mail saying that we were about to begin receiving our Christmas gift from my parents in monthly installments.

The gift that kept on giving was a subscription to the Fruit of the Month Club. Once each month, Airborne Express arrived at our door with a box of fresh fruit. The selection changed each month. In December, for example, it was Mandarin oranges; in April it was kiwi and pineapple. The fruit was always of good quality, and the shipments were just infrequent enough that I was always slightly surprised when each package arrived. Although the shipments were fairly small, they were always a welcome treat that didn’t require a trip to the market—and the subscription is something I never would have thought to purchase for myself. Last year, instead of fruit, we got a subscription to a monthly box of chocolates, enabling us to continue our ritual holiday overeating throughout the year.

They Deliver for Me
Before my fruit started arriving, I had heard of the Book-of-the-Month Club but had only a vague notion that other kinds of things were available on a monthly subscription plan. Now, however, I seem to find ___-of-the-month clubs every time I turn around. The company that provided our monthly fruit and chocolate selections, for example, also offers monthly subscriptions to beer, wine, flowers, gourmet pizza, cigars, and coffee. In each instance, the general idea is the same: for a fixed fee, you get a six- or twelve-month subscription, with a different selection of your chosen product arriving each month. This can be an easy way to experience new tastes or just make sure you never run out of important foods.

In our household, the number one staple food, ahead of milk, butter, and flour, is coffee—our favorite brand being Illy, which produces especially good results in our superautomatic coffee machine. Morgen discovered that Illy offers their own subscription programs, ranging from two cans per month (about the rate we consume it) to a full case every month (perhaps appropriate for a large family of people who never sleep). So we signed up, and have never run out of fresh coffee since. This stuff is not inexpensive—in fact, it’s almost the same price as buying it at the local market. But you’re buying convenience, which is certainly worth something.

What other sorts of ___-of-the-month clubs are there? A quick Google search turned up hundreds, ranging from the delightful to the bizarre. Things you can receive by monthly subscription include: gourmet cheese, minerals (for rock collectors), potato chips, sock-knitting kits, trout flies, tea, jam, pasta, pastries, magic tricks, oysters, candles, condoms, quilt blocks, nesting dolls, software, cookies, compact discs…well, I could go on, but you get the idea. I haven’t seen armchair-of-the-month or vaccine-of-the-month clubs, but with very few exceptions, it appears one can now receive virtually every item needed for survival or leisure by subscription.

Reader’s Dozen
And then, of course, there are books, the item-of-the-month that started it all. The original Book-of-the-Month Club was founded in 1926, designed as a way to get new books into the hands of people living in rural areas without easy access to bookstores or libraries. A panel of judges selected a new volume each month, sent at a respectable discount to subscribers. The following year, The Literary Guild—another variation on the same theme—started business. Decades later, after a series of mergers and acquisitions, both clubs still exist, but under the same joint ownership. If you enjoy reading the types of books the book-of-the-month club offers, it can be a convenient way to stay on top of the latest bestsellers and keep your library well-stocked at a reasonable price. As for me, I already accumulate books far faster than I can read them, so I’m more likely to subscribe to consumable products.

Notwithstanding the fact that I write a ___-of-the-day column, I find the notion of monthly subscription clubs strangely appealing—in an endearingly retro sort of way. Since it’s easy to purchase almost anything instantly on the Web these days, the subscription program is a bit of an anachronism. My suspicion is that clubs like these continue to thrive not so much for the convenience they provide but because people like novelty…and they like getting packages. If you can justify a subscription by convincing yourself that you’re saving money, all the better—but when you get right down to it, there’s just nothing like opening a box of goodies. —Joe Kissell

More Information about ___-of-the-Month Clubs…


So numerous are ___-of-the-Month clubs that it would be impossible even to attempt to list them all here. To find a club, the best place to start is a Google search. Be aware that you may have to browse through dozens of pages of listings to find the one you’re looking for, though.

In some categories, such as books, wine, beer, coffee, and chocolate, there are several distinct companies offering monthly subscriptions. If you’re interested in one of these, be sure to check out competing sites for prices and selection. Don’t assume that any club is “the” ___-of-the-Month Club.

The original (more or less) Book of the Month Club is still open for business, as is The Literary Guild. If you’d like a more focused selection, such as children’s books, science fiction, history, or romance, the same group (booksonline.com) offers dozens of other clubs.

The Fruit of the Month Club and Heavenly Chocolate Club we’ve belonged to are part of the Clubs of America, which offers eight different subscription clubs.

iGourmet.com offers Of-the-Month Clubs for cheese, coffee, salsa, tea, and more.

Illy offers a variety of coffee subscription programs, including one in which you can purchase a professional quality espresso machine at a deep discount if you commit to a one-year membership.