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Sales Up At Oldest, Largest Book Club

December 20, 1988

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Employees are packing last-minute Christmas orders at the huge warehouse belonging to Book-of-the-Month Club Inc. in the final chapter of a best- selling year for the company.

Lawrence M. Crutcher, president of the nation’s largest book club, said orders for 2 million books in December will help produce annual sales of about $200 million, up 12 percent from last year.

″We had a long, slow start but it has been a good fall,″ Crutcher said Monday in an interview at the mammoth facility just south of Harrisburg.

As a subsidiary of Time Inc., Book-of-the-Month Club does not reveal exact sales figures for its books, videotapes or casettes.

But Crutcher said the club received about 3 million book orders in November, at the height of the Christmas rush, prompting the company to increase its workforce from 600 to 800.

He attributed the surge partly to the release of many of the year’s best books late in the fall and partly to the holiday crunch. Fifteen percent to 20 percent of Book-of-the-Month Club sales are gifts, Crutcher said.

″We’ve pretty well dug out from the orders. We caught up last week,″ he said.

Book-of-the-Month Club, founded in 1926 with 4,000 charter members, now has 2.7 million members.

In addition to the main book club, the company offers seven speciality clubs for readers with interests in business, cooking, history, sailing, mystery novels, children’s books and paperbacks.

Book-of-the-Month Club also has been moving into the videotape market in recent years, often marketing videos as companions to books the club offers, Crutcher said.

In February, for instance, Book-of-the-Month Club plans to offer two videos about Martin Luther King along with the month’s main selection of ″Parting the Waters,″ a new book on the civil rights movement.

Videos and audio cassettes now account for about 5 percent of the book club’s business, Crutcher said.

″They are not a substitution sale. A lot of us have been nervous about this ... (but) it hasn’t hurt book sales,″ he said.

Book-of-the-Month Club’s sales have more than tripled in the last 20 years, showing that reading is alive and well, Crutcher said.

Crutcher, who will become chief executive officer in January, said the threefold increase of college graduates since World War II, to about 23 percent of the population, has helped the company’s growth.

″It’s not as explosive as cable TV, but it’s a good growth business,″ he said.

During a reporter’s visit recently to Book-of-the-Month Club’s labryinth of offices, employees were answering telephones, processing checks and sorting the 150,000 to 200,000 pieces of mail the club has been receiving daily.

Workers also stacked books in a three-stories high warehouse holding from 8 million to 10 million volumes on metal scaffolds stretching hundreds of yards.

″If you can’t find something in here you enjoy reading, you can’t find it anywhere,″ said Marty Mehring, human resources manager at the plant.

Orders received Monday will probably reach the buyer by Christmas, according to Crutcher, who said 99 percent of the orders received are processed within 24 hours.

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