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Science Fiction Book Club

Entry updated 23 August 2016. Tagged: Publisher.

We use the term book club in its older sense, that of a subscription-based relationship between purchasers – who normally agree to buy a certain number of titles a year – and the organization which publishes or distributes these titles, usually at a very significant discount from the retail price in bookshops. More recently the term has been applied to a discussion club, usually informal, where a group of people gather regularly to discuss a previously decided book. This sense of the term is rarely used in this encyclopedia, except when we list a title like Karen Joy Fowler's The Jane Austen Book Club (2004). Book clubs in the traditional sense can frequently be encountered in author Checklists, where commercial organizations – like the Science Fiction Book Club, or Nelson Doubleday, or GuildAmerica – are often listed as a book's publisher; though the most famous of them all, the Book of the Month Club, appears very rarely.

Science fiction book clubs were started in both the UK and the USA at roughly the same time (circa 1953). The UK version was owned in its early years by Sidgwick and Jackson, then by Dent as part of that company's Readers' Union group of book clubs, and finally by David and Charles, who bought the Readers' Union group in the 1970s. David and Charles's management, which contained no sf enthusiasts, was apathetic towards the SFBC, which later became subject to competition from Encounters, a book club aggressively promoted by the larger group Book Club Associates. SFBC offerings were almost exclusively reprints: in its better years from Faber and Faber, Gollancz and other UK publishers of note; in leaner times resorting to routine fare from Robert Hale Limited. Even before the death in 1982 of its freelance consultant Edmund Cooper, the editorless UK SFBC was slowly petering out, despite part- and spare-time efforts by one Readers' Union employee, Paul G Begg, to keep it alive; it died altogether some time after Begg left the company.

The US SFBC, by contrast, has had a history of continuity. It was originally published by Nelson Doubleday, Inc, an associate of, but distinct from, Doubleday, whose differing imprint is Doubleday and Company, Inc. In 1986 the US SFBC was sold, along with Doubleday, to the German company Bertelsmann, and from 1989 to 1998 its publications appeared under the GuildAmerica imprint, reverting thereafter to The Science Fiction Book Club. The US club is far larger than the UK club ever was, offers a very much broader selection, publishes its own editions (including special hardcover editions of paperback originals) and creates books – omnibuses of various sorts – especially for its members. It is thus duly listed as the publisher of record for many such omnibus editions in author Checklists. (The UK club normally presented no more than one reprint title per month, initially of reasonable production quality but latterly reprinted cheaply on inferior paper and with a cheap binding and cover.) The US SFBC has been a major force in sf publishing. Under the aegis of Nelson Doubleday it published many first editions of individual titles; GuildAmerica was less active as an original publisher. [MJE/PN/JGr/JC/DRL]


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