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E-Mail That Lures Book Readers
By M.J. Rose

2:00 a.m. Feb. 5, 2002 PST

More than 90,000 people are opening their e-mail every day to read a chapter of a book.

The goal of 2-year-old DearReader.com is to provide people with a vehicle to get them back into the habit of reading and to introduce them to books that they otherwise might not have discovered.

Members receive a free daily five-minute read. The "reads" are consecutive, so by the end of the week, members will have read two to three complete chapters from the featured book. To continue reading, readers have to buy the book or take it out of the library. Every Monday a new book starts in each book club.

As a stand-alone site with seven free book clubs, DearReader sells thousands of titles each month. But the way it is branding book clubs as a marketing device has bookstores, publishers and corporations intrigued.

Some of the branded clubs include one for Books-a-Million bookstore, a McGraw Hill Business Book Club, a book club for McGraw-Hill employees and a book club for fans of syndicated columnist Barbara Feldman.

"We've received an incredibly positive response from our customers. It's a service that they can't get anywhere else, and it sells a lot of books," Books-a-Million.com President Terry Finley said.

DearReader has also created branded clubs for numerous schools and colleges and for more than 479 public library systems in North America, representing over 3,000 library branches.

The company was created when Suzanne Beecher heard her employees at another company complain they had no time to read.

"One night in the daily company e-mail, I started typing in the beginning of a book that I was reading. I stopped after about a 5-minute read and said that I would continue the book in tomorrow's e-mail."

After five days of sending out snippets of the book she was reading, Beecher started getting e-mails from staff saying that they were checking e-mail because they were hooked on the book she was sending.

"It was then that I realized that I had found a way to change people's behavior. If these busy people were now finding the time to read, then the same thing could happen with other people."

And Chapter-a-Day was born.

At first, publishers were skeptical about giving Beecher free excerpts of two chapters or more. Typically, those rights have to be paid for. But readership grew and sales showed the excerpts were selling books. She said she now works with 90 percent of all major publishers.

Digital books and Enron -- more failure: Internet research site Questia.com has closed its New York office and laid off 40 employees. From a high of 280 last May, only about 30 employees remain.

In three previous rounds of financing, over $165 million dollars had been raised, including an investment from former Enron CEO Ken Lay. Lay is also on the company's board of directors.

Publisher's Lunch reports that Lay will stay on the board at least for the time being and quotes Questia's Helen Wilson as saying it would be "premature" to speculate about his future.

Just over a year ago, Questia launched its student-targeted research service by charging a monthly $20 subscription fee for access to its 66,000-plus digital book library.

Fatbrain gets thinner: Barnes&Noble.com, which bought Fatbrain.com 18 months ago for $64 million, will lay off 50 employees, close the company's California office and consolidate the company into Barnes&Noble.com's New York headquarters.

Kevin Frain, the Vice President of Finance for Barnes&Noble.com, told Publisher's Weekly the company "remains committed" to the corporate marketplace, but believes it can bring more focus to the unit by moving the group to New York.

Originally, Fatbrain had focused on selling B2B and corporate books, but in August 1999 announced the creation of eMatter, which would allow magazine publishers and individual authors to sell digitized documents online, earning royalties on every copy sold.

M.J. Rose is the author of two novels and two nonfiction titles.

Copyright (C) 1994-2002 Wired Digital Inc. All rights reserved.


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