June 4, 2012

Oprah to launch Book Club 2.0


Oprah Winfrey was once a name in the book business that rivaled those of the industry’s bestselling authors. From 1996 to 2011, Oprah’s book club was a staple of the marketplace. Her selection of a book could make, nearly overnight, an author’s career.

Often though, Oprah’s selections benefited already established authors. In most cases it was a Big Six publisher that published one of her selections. This, combined with the macro-economy of the club at its peak, frustrated independent presses and bookstores. In that era of book retailing, Barnes & Noble and Borders would gobble up a lion’s share of sales on bestsellers and the like, as they leveraged price and distribution.

In the last few years of the book club, Oprah’s effect on the market was clearly lost. Her shift toward literary classics alienated some readers, with book club picks including a three-volume slipcase set of William Faulkner, and a pair of Charles Dickens novels that had to compete with free or inexpensive digital copies. This, coupled with the end of her long-running talk show in 2011, spelled the end of the book club.

Until now. Oprah announced last last week that she was rebooting the book club, with a 2.0 moniker in the press release coming from her camp. The book club is being revamped to include a stronger digital presence, which will include a savvier awareness of the ebook market. The Associated Press reports:

Oprah’s Book Club 2.0,” a joint project of Winfrey’s OWN network and her O magazine, begins Monday with the popular memoir “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed‘s story of her 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in California and Washington. Besides the traditional paper version, featuring the circular Oprah book club logo, special e-editions will be made available that include Winfrey’s comments and a reader’s guide.

An interview with Strayed will air July 22 on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday” and on Oprah Radio. Readers will be able to share opinions through Facebook and Twitter and Winfrey’s website, www.oprah.com.

“This is way different from the old book club,” Winfrey said in an online video announcement, taped in her Chicago office and posted Friday on her website. “This time it’s an interactive, online club for our digital world.”

Unlike her old book club, which built up a lot of hype and secrecy around release dates and announcements, this book club launched on the fly and even choose a book that was already out in the market place. So how has it gone so far? More on that from the AP story:

The initial response to Friday’s announcement was slow compared to Winfrey’s peak, when her choices topped best-seller charts within hours of her revealing them. As of Friday night, “Wild,” had received a mild bump on Amazon.com‘s list, from No. 175 before Winfrey’s pick to No. 97. “Wild” ranked No. 244 late Friday on the Kindle e-book charts.

Not exactly world-beating numbers there. While some are pointing to Winfrey’s waning star, this slow launch could very well have to do with it occurring on a Friday and it being the first choice. Only time will tell if Oprah still has the power to make legions of readers wait for, purchase, and discuss her favored book.


Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.