A pair of friends crowdfunding to build the “best non-fiction book club in the world” have surged past their £100,000 target.
Brand-building expert Ben Saul-Garner and entrepreneur Ben Keene came up with the Rebel Book Club in 2015 when comparing Kindles and realising they had a “never-ending pile” of non-fiction books they never finished reading.
Saul-Garner told The Bookseller: “We had them on our Kindle and they were all 20% read and we thought ‘we’ve got a problem here’. We keep downloading very similar books – non-fiction, about starting businesses, about politics or culture – and we thought we’d start a book club. We invited 10 people and then we had drinks and spoke about the book, it really helped us.”
The club, which now charges a membership fee, has grown over the past four years with 650 subscribing members. Five hundred of those are in London, but the club is also expanding into other cities from Oxford to Barcelona. Some join the London meet-ups remotely but others hold their own sessions.
Saul-Garner, who now runs the club as a fulltime job, explained: “The business model is really simple, people pay about £15 per month – that’s the average membership – and you can buy different types of membership depending if you want to read a book every month or be more flexible. Each month there’s a theme and this month it’s mental health and then we source and curate three months on that topic, non-fiction, and then we vote and then for the winner. We sent out a book voucher via Amazon so they can download or buy a paperback version. They also get an invite to our monthly meet-up on the last Tuesday of every month, we have a cocktail designed around the book – we’ve had 53 cocktails developed so far.
“But the purpose is not to critique the book. It’s more about saying what was surprising, what might you get out of the book. Last month was about climate so very topical, August was personal finance. We do a mixture of personal development themes, more inward-looking, and more global trends.”
The pair have ambitious growth targets. Over the next year, they want to build the club to 2,500 members and then 10,000 members by 2022.
He said: “The majority of our members – about 60% - are women under 30 so it’s young professionals, from all walks of life. They are interested in life and learning, very curious people and want to read a lot but have busy lives. They have freelance jobs or portfolio careers, their lives are busy living in places like London but they want to read more than just a blog post. They want to not just download a book but also read it. They want to build up the focus to reading, we see Rebel Bookclub like your meditation app or a gym membership, how can I just get back into a good reading habit? But also socially, so you connect those ideas and insights so you are people who are similar-minded but also out there doing different things. “
The club launched a Crowdcube funding drive last month which has now hit more than £110,000 through 191 investors. Saul-Garner said the money would provide “rocket fuel” for the business. The club aims to keep expanding into other cities, build a Calm-style reading coach app and start supporting literacy projects.
Keene said: “We see a real passion amongst our members to develop their reading habits and take the lessons from the pages into their real lives for their own personal growth. This really excites Ben and I and we can’t wait to take Rebel Book Club to the next level.”