Reese Witherspoon’s New App Adds to Growing Crowd of Virtual Book Clubs

Bill Mount

Hello Sunshine, the media company founded by actress and entrepreneur Reese Witherspoon, has introduced a free app for its book club, offering the latest digital meeting place away from the crowds on big social media platforms. Reese’s Book Club has operated since 2017 on Instagram, where it accumulated 1.9 million […]

Hello Sunshine, the media company founded by actress and entrepreneur

Reese Witherspoon,

has introduced a free app for its book club, offering the latest digital meeting place away from the crowds on big social media platforms.

Reese’s Book Club has operated since 2017 on Instagram, where it accumulated 1.9 million followers. Executives believe it can strengthen its relationship with readers with an app of its own.

“We wanted to build our cozy corner of the internet,” said Cynthia Rupeka, vice president at Reese’s Book Club, part of Hello Sunshine, the consumer name for Be Sunshine LLC.

Book club apps are becoming more common as people seek to congregate around specific interests in new ways. Discord Inc., a chat startup popular with gamers that also has channels dedicated to other interests and the audio-only social network Clubhouse each recently raised $100 million from investors.

People have felt more isolated during the pandemic, with 34% of U.S. adults saying that social media, video calls and texting did not help them feel more connected to friends and family, according to data from

Forrester Research Inc.,

a research firm.

But they have maintained an appetite for novelty and ways to be entertained, said

Anjali Lai,

senior analyst at Forrester.

“It is a little bit of a perfect storm for this desire to find like-minded consumers in a sort of private space, right behind these digital closed doors, that feels a bit more intimate, and connect with people in that way,” Ms. Lai said.

Readers have flocked to

Amazon.com Inc.’s

Goodreads service, which lets users create groups for a variety of reading interests. The service has more than 120 million members. Oprah Winfrey has perhaps the most well-known book club. She revived the club in 2019 with an

Apple Inc.

partnership that includes an Apple TV+ show with author interviews, a dedicated section in Apple’s Books app and a podcast. The book club also reaches readers via social media and a Goodreads group.

But big services sometimes overwhelm readers, said Ms. Lai.

In addition to hosting virtual book club sessions over video, Reese’s Book Club app tries to cater to users’ sense of individuality with events such as “club chats” centered on subjects like how people organize their bookshelves.

Hello Sunshine receives a portion of the revenue from book purchases that result when members click out to e-commerce sites from its app.

The company has corporate partnerships as well, such as an in-vehicle app in select Buick models. Drivers can listen to an audiobook via the app as well as podcasts from Hello Sunshine.

The Hello Sunshine book club app competes with similar products from companies including Literati Inc., which expanded in October beyond its children’s subscription book service to offer a version for adults as well. The new iteration includes clubs curated by celebrities such as National Basketball Association star Stephen Curry; subscribers pay $25 a month or $240 a year for a new book each month and access to conversations and other content in the app. The company has raised a total of $52 million from investors such as Felicis Ventures.

A club called the Lounge hosts discussions with authors over video; members can also hold discussions about books or other interests in a Slack group or in smaller events. “What was missing and what we tried to create in the Lounge is filling in those gaps for constant communication,” said Olivia Rogine, director of community at the Lounge and Girls’ Night In, which are part of No Plans Inc.

Members pay $130 a year or $12 a month.

Digital book clubs are finding ways to strengthen their relationships with users outside of social media platforms, said Zoe Scaman, founder of Bodacious Ltd., a strategy studio.

“It often feels like we’re screaming into the void and no one can hear us,” Ms. Scaman added, referring to large social media platforms. “And so what people have done is shift towards this sense of interest-based, intimate communities.”

Write to Ann-Marie Alcántara at [email protected]

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