How the 'Oprah Effect' changed publishing

America's most popular reader, Oprah Winfrey, says she is not done talking about the books she loves.

By George Burns,, AP

Oprah Winfrey brought authors such as Ken Follett ('The Pillars of the Earth') to the public's attention.

Oprah Winfrey brought authors such as Ken Follett ('The Pillars of the Earth') to the public's attention.

As The Oprah Winfrey Show ends its 25-year run on Wednesday, its host says Oprah's Book Club will follow her to her fledgling cable network, OWN. Without offering details, she vows, "I'm going to try to develop a show for books and authors."

Book discussions never attracted her best ratings, but that "doesn't matter," Winfrey tells USA TODAY. "Some things you do because it is necessary. We've done OK with them. … We found the more I could connect the author and the book to the audience, the better the numbers would be."

And in the book world, her numbers are beyond compare.

It began Sept. 17, 1996, with Winfrey's announcement that The Deep End of the Ocean, Jacquelyn Mitchard's novel about the kidnapping of a child, was the club's first selection.

Fordham University marketing professor Al Greco estimates that sales of "Oprah editions" of the 70 titles in her book club total about 55 million copies, "and there wasn't a James Patterson or a John Grisham among them."

Winfrey's critics cringed after some touchy-feely selections and after discussions that were more about the readers than the books they read. But no one doubted her power as the ultimate in word-of-mouth recommendations. It's called the Oprah Effect. For example:

Book club by the numbers

70: Number of books selected
for Oprah’s Book Club

59: Number that made the top 10
on USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list

22: Number that were No. 1
on USA TODAY’s list

11: Most consecutive weeks
an Oprah book stayed at No. 1
(Ekhart Tolle’s A New Earth)

4: Most selections by one author
(Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon,
Paradise, The Bluest Eye and Sula)

Source: The Oprah Winfrey Show

•In 2004, Leo Tolstoy's tragic 19th-century love story,Anna Karenina, hit No. 1 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list after Winfrey embraced it.

•In 2009, she rocketed Say You're Not One of Them, Uwem Akpan's short-story collection about Africa, to No. 9 on USA TODAY's list. (His publisher reports 77,000 copies in print before Winfrey; 780,000 copies reprinted with the "O" logo on the cover.) CLICK HERE for the full story. 

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