Zoom Book Club Meetings: The Pros & Cons

book clubs meeting virtually, the pros and consIn recent articles, we've been talking about how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought big changes to the way book clubs run their discussions, especially in terms of where and how meetings have been taking place. Before the pandemic, all but 2% of respondents to our October 2020 survey, "Book Clubs in Lockdown," said their book group (or their primary group if they belonged to more than one) had met in person; whereas at the time of the survey, two-thirds of those in groups that were currently meeting were getting together virtually, and almost all of these were meeting on Zoom.

While virtual meetings have their share of drawbacks, many of the respondents pointed out benefits:

Welcoming Back Former Members

Switching to a virtual format means meetings are no longer confined to participants who live in the immediate area. Many respondents noted that their group had been able to welcome back former members who had moved away permanently or temporarily, and many observed that they could see benefits to maintaining a virtual element in the future.

We are delighted that virtual meetings have allowed two long-term members of the group who moved away to join us once again. Also, this year several members have had some physical challenges that would make attending meetings in person difficult. With virtual meetings, 100% of the members have been able to attend all the meetings since March.

I spend part of the year in a southern climate, so in the past I've been unable to attend winter book club meetings. Now that we meet on Zoom exclusively, I'm able to attend the meetings even when I'm far away.

Gaining New Members

While a quarter of respondents (irrespective of whether their group was meeting in person or virtually) said their book club had lost members during the pandemic, more of those meeting virtually said their group had gained members, compared to groups still meeting in person; and sometimes these new members were people who had felt unable to join an in-person book club previously for a variety of reason, such as disabilities, childcare issues, lack of transportation or frequent travel commitments.

Inviting Authors

Another advantage to meeting virtually is that it's easier to invite authors to attend a meeting. Just like members can now take part in meetings from anywhere, it's much simpler to schedule an author to drop in on your book group when all they have to do is log into Zoom.

Our biggest change has been the ability to attract authors to attend by Zoom, particularly as a Canadian group. We have attracted several American authors including one very high-profile author who was willing to "zoom" with us.

It seems that authors appreciate this change as well. I've spoken to a couple who have many past years of experience meeting with book clubs (mostly via Skype and sometimes in person), who say that they find Zoom to be excellent as it takes a fraction of the time compared to attending a meeting in-person and also tends to be more streamlined than meeting via Skype as there would often be delays while the group member responsible for setting up the internet connection got things sorted out. By comparison, with Zoom, they can drop in halfway through an already established virtual meeting and get straight down to answering questions.

Technology Troubles and Triumphs

On the topic of technical issues, while about 40% of those in groups meeting virtually said there were initial hiccups adapting to this format, most resolved these issues relatively quickly by working together and helping each other out.

We held Zoom tutorials and practice Zooms to make sure everyone was good to go.

I run the club and am hugely impressed with the patience (with technology problems) and strong support that members have given.

Of course, there were reports of some members being unwilling to follow the book club to a virtual format, because they aren't comfortable with the technology or simply don't like the idea of trying to discuss books over video chat; but the fundamental problem for far too many has been a lack of access to the necessary technology. In fact, a full quarter of the more than 3,000 U.S. respondents to our survey said that their book group had not been meeting at all during the pandemic, and the root cause was often technology related. Zoom requires a fast connection and a device capable of running the app; but according to the FCC, 19 million Americans lack access to fixed broadband services (nearly a quarter of the population in rural areas and one-third in tribal communities), and even where available, a great many do not subscribe. A cellphone connection could be an option for some of those without fixed broadband, but coverage is spotty in many areas and apparently only about half of those over 65 have a smartphone.

Community Cohesion

As we discussed in our post on Fostering Connections, many respondents say they have found significant emotional support from the other members of their book group during this period of general stress and anxiety. It can also be a comfort just to do something familiar and fun, like gathering with friends to talk about a book, even when the format of that gathering is a little different.

Being a widow living alone, unable to see or visit my family, reading books gives great pleasure, and the contact and discussion with club members makes life worth living during the pandemic.

Having an outlet of other women to look forward to sharing comments and life lessons regarding books we are reading with gives us something to look forward to during this pandemic. Even done virtually it is a joy to look forward to.

In the next post, I'll talk more about the social angle of virtual meetings and what participants like and don't like about discussing books on Zoom.

---Davina, BookBrowse Publisher

This article is sourced from our 2020 report, Book Clubs in Lockdown. You can download the full report for free at bookbrowse.com/wp/lockdown.

The findings in this article are drawn from our published research: The Inner Lives of Book Clubs and/or Book Clubs in Lockdown. More about both at bookbrowse.com/wp.

You can see more articles in The Inner Lives of Book Clubs section of this blog; and receive future articles in your mailbox by subscribing to our newsletters, in particular Book Club News or Librarian News.

And if you're looking for an expert on book clubs for interview, please contact us!

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