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Bertelsmann plans Net-only gay and lesbian book club

The book club unit of the German media giant plans a Gay and Lesbian club, which will be only on the Internet, according to a company source.

The book club unit of German media giant Bertelsmann plans to launch a Gay and Lesbian club, which unlike its other book clubs will be available only on the Internet, according to a company source.

Doubleday Direct's Literary Guild will debut the Gay and Lesbian book club on its site sometime in January 2000. To protect the privacy of it gay and lesbian club members and to avoid confrontations with its Christian book club members, the company does not plan to complement the online club with its traditional monthly catalog mailings.

"We are skirting a very delicate line here," said the Bertelsmann source, adding that while the gay and lesbian focus group members do not seem to mind the company's affiliation with the Christian clubs, it is not a two-way street. "We have had furious uproar when our distribution lines have inadvertently enclosed erotic flyers in the Christian club packages."

"We have to keep it very separate," the source said. "We are geared to do promotion and distribution through all kinds of media, including the Internet."

The book club market, controlled primarily by the Time Warner's Book of the Month Club and Doubleday Direct, has seen its strong following being chipped away by the emergence of online book sellers like Amazon.com.

These leading book clubs have increasingly countered by launching clubs catering to niche sectors, giving consumers a sense that their specialized editors can exactly pinpoint and recommend the right books.

In the coming weeks and months, the Literary Guild plans to launch other clubs, including the Erotica club, Black Expressions for African-Americans, and Mango for young women. These clubs will be both online and in the traditional catalog-mailing forms.

Despite having an online-only club, gays and lesbians who are part of the Literary Guild focus group are not offended by the exclusion from the regular catalog mailing format, said the Bertelsmann source.

"We have their support and they are glad that an established corporation like ours is paying heed to their needs and giving them the literary legitimacy they are seeking," the source said.

Ken Cassar, an analyst with Jupiter Communications' digital commerce group said that if the company can promote the club, they will probably see a high response rate.

The Literary Guild plans to rent mailing lists from gay and lesbian magazines and associations, and to promote their new club on prominent related Web sites.

Cassar, however, noted that his one concern would be about how big a market opportunity exists.

"While there may be a lot of gay and lesbian people out there, I don't know how much content there is that brings them all together," said Cassar.

Nonetheless, Cassar figured that there are opportunities to sell new titles and let that group know of new titles in a discreet, targeted promotion.

The Literary Guild "is likely to get more value out of (that demographic sector) by virtue of the fact that products will be targeted rather than going with a pure mass market club," said Cassar.