An open cardboard box

Hark back with me to the Dark Years (or the Good Old Days, depending on your point of view)—the time before any object a person desired could be delivered to one’s door within days (if not hours), with no more effort than a few taps on a smartphone screen. I’m old enough to remember a time before—indeed, before the internet itself—when discovering, locating, and procuring a variety of any particular type of merchandise actually presented a challenge. Way back in the days when we had to wait for checks to clear and then allow 6–8 weeks for delivery, the notion that a previously unknown specimen of one of our favorite things would arrive automagically on our doorstep once a month was quite compelling.

I had experienced, and then long forgotten about, thing-of-the-month clubs when, in the early 2000s, my Christmas gift from my mother 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 was something I never would have thought to purchase for myself.

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. In most cases, 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 and broaden your horizons a bit. (You can also, of course, have Amazon or another retailer automatically send you refills of exactly the same staple items on the schedule of your choice, but that’s different from having someone select a different item in a given category for a monthly surprise.)

What other sorts of ___-of-the-month clubs are there? A quick web search turned up hundreds, ranging from the delightful to the bizarre. Things you can receive by monthly subscription include: candles, chocolate, coffee, cookies, craft beer, fruit, gourmet cheese, hot sauce, jam, leggings, oysters, pasta, pastries, pickles, potato chips, socks, tea, trout flies, wine…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 a curated monthly example of virtually any 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. Many decades later, after a series of mergers and acquisitions, both clubs still exist. 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 online these days, this type of 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.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on May 11, 2003, and again in a slightly revised form on October 24, 2004.

Previous articleOil from Garbage
Next articleTake Control of Your Digital Legacy