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Bertelsmann Buys E-mail Marketer

Bertelsmann's book and music club unit, DirectGroup, is poised to buy e-mail marketer Zooba.com in a deal aimed at expanding its online promotional efforts.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Founded last July, New York-based DirectGroup Bertelsmann claims more than 50 million customers and members for its book and music clubs, and its e-commerce sales business. It's generally considered the market leader in media clubs and, with BOL, CDNow and a 50 percent stake in BarnesandNoble.com, is a major force in media e-commerce.

But executives said the giant is seeking new ways to promote its book club memberships and its publishing business. Enter Boston-based Zooba, which claims 2.5 million members.

Each week, Zooba delivers some six million opt-in e-mails containing personalized content based on users' pre-selected topics. In the free mailings, subscribers receive product recommendations from advertisers based on those specified interests.

Additionally, Zooba.com also offers advertisers a custom e-mail channel, through which subscribers can elect to receive news, announcements and deals in e-mails from the advertiser.

Through Friday's acquisition, DirectGroup Bertelsmann aims to leverage those advertising vehicles for self-promotion.

"Zooba will allow Bookspan and other club businesses to precisely target offers and information to member expectations and needs," said DirectGroup's chief executive, Klaus Eierhoff. "For prospective club members, the service works as a door opener: book-loving Zooba subscribers will discover the clubs to be the perfect media service for their special fields of interest."

DirectGroup also will provide Zooba.com services to Bookspan, a joint venture between Bertelsmann and Time Inc. Bookspan, which includes more than 40 book clubs (like Book-of-the-Month Club and The Doubleday Book Club) will receive a 50 percent stake in Zooba.com through the deal, and access to its e-mail marketing promotions.

"Until recently, publishers in particular have not had the most efficient means to reach readers who are truly interested in their books," said Zooba president Jeffrey Glass. "We are proud and enthusiastic about the acquisition ... a wonderful event for our subscribers, investors, [advertising] partners, and employees."

Like partial owner DirectGroup, Bookspan plans to use Zooba to promote its book club memberships to its more than 8.5 million reported members.

"We are very excited to join forces with Zooba.com because, unlike many e-mail marketers and dot-com businesses, Zooba's platform provides compelling content and access to related services and products," said Bookspan chief executive Markus Wilhelm.

Executives at DirectGroup said the deal highlights the unit's efforts to beef up its online direct marketing efforts.

"We are in the process of advancing our clubs to become fully market- and marketing-driven businesses," Eierhoff said. "The acquisition of Zooba will further fuel our determined efforts to fully integrate the Internet into our club businesses."

Zooba's Glass said the acquisition should allow it to continue its advertising relationships with other publishing partners. It currently has deals with Viacom's Simon & Schuster, Columbia University Press, St. Martin's Press and others.