Opening doors

<p>Bertelsmann is opening a new chapter in the saga of its ailing German book club operation.</p>
<p>Faced with dwindling membership figures and declining profits, new boss Bernd Schr&ouml;der has delivered another concept to revive Club Bertelsmann's fortunes. Details of the new model are still being kept under wraps, but it is practically official that the book club will open its bookshop doors to the public.</p>
<p>To allow non-members to buy the licensed club editions, Schr&ouml;der and editorial director Anita Offel-Grohmann have come up with a simple solution to sidestep the strict rules imposed by the law that settles fixed book prices in Germany: all club editions will carry two prices, one the reduced rate for club members, the other the full price of the original hardback edition.</p>
<p>Much depends on a trial in three shops in Berlin, Aschaffenburg and Hanau, which will run until Christmas. If successful, the model will be introduced, accompanied by a new name and outfit for the shops.</p>
<p>In the meantime, the club's management is doing the rounds among leading trade publishers to advertise the concept. They can expect open doors because it has already been cleared with the group of lawyers that fiercely protect the country's fixed price system.<br />
Catching passing trade (and perhaps getting new members to enrol) has for some time been high on Club Bertelsmann's list of priorities. Non-members have always been welcome to buy from the extensive range of products not bound by retail price maintenance.</p>
<p>Bernd Schr&ouml;der, who succeeded Fernando Carro as head of Bertelsmann's Direct Group Germany on 1st September, is under considerable pressure to make a go of the new shop model. The book club division has been Bertelsmann's number one problem for some years and the board is getting increasingly impatient with its inadequate financial performance.</p>
<p>Membership has been in steady decline&mdash;from its peak of six million members in the mid-1990s to slightly more than three million members last year. Sales have also fallen to an estimated &euro;250m (&pound;220m). Internationally, Bertelsmann has divested most of its book club businesses: earlier this year, it sold off BCA in the UK.</p>
<p>In Germany it has chosen to fight on. Money-saving opportunities have been more or less exhausted, though, and a range of restructuring and cost-cutting exercises has brought only short-term relief. On the other hand, the club is something of an institution in Germany that no one would want to discard lightly. Among older Germans in particular, the name Bertelsmann does not stand for a global media group but for a book club business. <br />