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How Book Club Platforms Captivate Readers




It is the age of communities. From sneaker manufacturers to franchise cafes, companies are putting as much effort into building communities as they are into making things. Gathering loyal fans in one place to generate buzz and feedback has become a proven business strategy in an environment where we are bombarded with information and products. The publishing industry is no exception. Publishers and bookstores are opening cafes and book clubs, creating apps, and publishing newsletters. They reward book club members with exclusive editions of books and merchandise to give them a sense of belonging, or even let them choose the cover design of a new book.
Beyond the business strategy of the publishing industry, the importance of book-reading communities is growing every day in the overall book culture ecosystem. There is something contagious about people’s activities. If you are surrounded by people who talk about books, you want to read more books. If you are around people who talk about football, you want to watch more football games. And, if a book reader is surrounded by football talkers, the book reader will naturally spend less time reading and more time watching football. The opposite is also true. A book-reading community can be a space that preserves the shrinking number of readers. On top of that, they can be a place for writers and readers to meet, and a place for publishers with tight budgets to promote their books.


Online book club platforms can best play the role of a book-reading community
in the book culture ecosystem.


Book-reading communities can come in many shapes and sizes. They can be large, like One City One Book, where local residents read the same book, or they can be small, like clubs that are based on existing organizations, like schools or companies. We can also imagine a “gathering of book clubs,” which is a gathering of various book clubs created by people with different characteristics and backgrounds. Here, we could call it a “book club platform” where anyone can easily find a book club they like or organize a book club with members to read together. If anyone can participate online regardless of physical location, it can be called an online book club platform.
In this article, I would like to introduce Dokpa, Fly Book, Gmeum, Steadio, and other online book club platforms in Korea, focusing less on their size and more on their capacity to serve as a platform. Sites like Trevari, Munto, Agreable, and NFYG (read as netfleyeonga) recruit members online, but the actual book clubs are mostly run offline. Naver Band and Kakaotalk Open Chat are sometimes used to organize book clubs, but the sites themselves are not really intended for book clubs. Video or audio-based book clubs using Zoom, Naver Whale, Google Meet, Clubhouse, and so on also have limitations in that they don’t leave a text record and have a time limit - rather than a space limit - that requires participants to be online at the same time.


Dokpa – Set a goal to complete a book with a mate!


Dokpa is a platform run by Munhakdongne publishing house. The name Dokpa is a combination of dok (meaning “to read”) and pa (meaning “to break through”). As its name suggests, it focuses on the “reading experience” of its users. It is a challenge-type platform where users can share their daily goals, such as waking up in the morning, losing weight, or exercising, on the app. When Munhakdongne chooses a book for the challenge, participants who buy or borrow the book keep track of their reading progress, motivating each other and sharing their impressions. In the beginning, only new releases from Munhakdongne were chosen, but since last year, books from other publishers have also been selected for the challenge. There are free challenges and paid challenges that cost 3,000 won to participate.


The main page of Dokpa

The main page of Dokpa



One of the best characteristics and benefits of Dokpa is that experts who have a deep understanding of the book, such as the writer, translator, or editor, become “Dokpa mates” and support participants in their reading. As a platform run by a publishing company, it makes full use of its strong writer network and internal resources. During the challenge period, Dokpa mates will give participants simple tasks called “missions” and post supportive videos.
When they chose Haruki Murakami’s new book, The City and Its Uncertain Walls, as their challenge book, they invited Lim Kyoung-Sun, a writer known for being a longtime fan of Haruki’s books, and nearly 900 people applied. Also, online book talks with the writer or translator at the end of the challenge are a great incentive for participants.


* K-Book Trends Vol. 61 – Go to the interview with writer Lim Kyoung-Sun


Books for challenges are selected twice a month, with about 7 books at a time. The challenge period is usually 15 days, although it varies depending on the volume of the book. Books are usually literary, such as novels and essays, and many Dokpa members are serious literary readers. Some of them are even appointed as “Dokpa Ambassadors” and promote the platform. You can easily download the app and get started right away, and the UI is intuitive and easy to use. Still, the things that members can do on the app are limited. Munhakdongne has complete authority over the selection of books to read together and the scheduling of challenges.


Fly Book – Talk about books and get recommendations on social media


Founded in 2013, Fly Book is a startup that tries various book-related businesses with the vision of “bringing books and people closer.” It started with a personalized book recommendation service, then introduced a regular shipping model that delivers the recommended books to your door, and now runs book clubs at offline bases (currently on hold due to library preparations). It has also installed kiosks in libraries that use AI to make book recommendations. The company’s app, Fly Book, with the same name, also has several features that allow users to interact with each other and form an online book community. Basically, it can be described as an Instagram for books. The main feed displays images, book reviews, and favorite quotes posted by members. Members can skim through the main feed and follow other members that they like to interact with.


The main page of Fly Book

The main page of Fly Book



In the Fly Book app, there’s a tab in the menu called “Moim” (meaning “Book Club”). This is where various organizations and individuals can gather people to read together, whether it is a book review group organized by a publisher, an offline book talk, or a book club for regular members to read together. Unlike Dokpa, users can be much more active in creating a community. In 2023, Fly Book users joined more than 2,500 gatherings. Anyone can use the app and join a book club without signing up for a Fly Book membership or any other paid subscription service, such as book rentals.
With its CEO from the IT industry, the company’s strength is that it quickly reflects the needs of its users and makes thorough data analysis. It is said that the company collects and analyzes more than 100,000 reading data per month on average, including gender, age, interests, genres, reviews, and search volume of users. Last year, the Fly Book app accumulated about 250,000 users, with about 118,000 posts. That is more than 320 posts per day. However, these posts have limited external impact because readers must have the Fly Book app to view them.


Gmeum – 1,000 book clubs created in just 1.3 years


Gmeum, which describes itself as a “knowledge community,” was a latecomer to the market, launching in September 2022. However, within a year and four months, more than 1,000 book clubs were created, and the publishing industry has begun to pay attention to it as the book clubs run by several publishers have garnered good responses. In particular, it has been recognized as having a large number of high-level, serious readers. In fact, people in the publishing industry often ask the platform, “How did you gather such a group of readers?”
Gmeum’s greatest strength is its openness. Anyone can start a book club after a simple signup process, and you can “browse” and see what other users are doing even without signing up. The posts by members are not just out there; they are stored in a way that search engines can find them. In fact, if you search for a new book on a search engine, you can often find book clubs on Gmeum on the first page of search results. As such, Gmeum’s book clubs can be a useful marketing tool for publishers as well.


The main page of Gmeum

The main page of Gmeum



One of the reasons Gmeum quickly gained so much support from readers without doing much promotion is that, from the beginning, it designed its features and design to make online book clubs the best they can be. For example, Gmeum has a “spoiler protection” feature. Sometimes, people in a fiction book club might reveal plot points from the back of the book while discussing their impressions, but this feature blurs the text so that it is not readable until you click on the sentence. This way, people who have read the later parts of the book can post their thoughts without the concern that they might spoil others, and people who haven’t read the book can join without worrying about getting spoiled. Other popular features include the option to add other books mentioned in the discussion to a virtual book club or personal bookshelf, and the option to turn the collected quotes into Instagram-ready images.
As such, Gmeum has put a lot of thought into these seemingly insignificant details. Gmeum doesn’t have a “like” button like most online communities. This is because it believed that users would be hesitant to post their thoughts that were not likely to be well-received if they were mindful of the number of likes, and that such an impact would be critical in a book club where diverse opinions should be freely exchanged. Other features, such as the maximum 29-day limit on the duration of book clubs, were designed with the idea of maintaining a healthy reading community. The tempting idea that you can meet sincere readers and have in-depth conversations has attracted many writers to Gmeum. Writers such as Hwang Bo-Reum, Kang Yang-Goo, and Cho Young-Joo are voluntarily running their own book clubs.


Steadio – Sponsoring and book club in one place


Steadio is a monthly sponsorship service created by Tumblbug, a crowdfunding platform. It imported a successful business model from abroad, where artists and creators organize meetups and fans pay to subscribe. While it is not just for readers, book clubs can also be organized using the platform. In fact, there are already book clubs such as “Reading Le Monde Diplomatique with the Publisher” and “100 Days of Miracle Morning Reading Challenge.” While there are not many of them yet, the good thing is that anyone can organize a paid book club, and it is easy to make payments.


The main page of Steadio

The main page of Steadio



It is a bit of a burden to introduce an online book club platform in Korea when the concept hasn’t even been defined yet, let alone proven profitable. There are some communities that have failed to cross the critical point and have gone inactive. However, I believe that the potential of online book club platforms remains huge. This is because online book club platforms are the best medium to serve the role of a reading community, as described above. In particular, they hold the potential to be different from offline book clubs in that the voices of readers can be transcribed into text and, when accumulated, become a community of critics. So, I’m excited to see the many conversations that will take place in the online space around books.



Written by Kim Sae-Seom (CEO of Gmeum Inc.)



Kim Sae-Seom (CEO of Gmeum Inc.)

#Book Club Platform#Dokpa#Fly Book#Gmeum#Steadio
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