Th Oprah Book Club: not so good for new literature

The TNR has a post about how effective the Oprah Book Club in promoting reading and literature. It looks as if it didn’t make new readers out of non readers. It did get readers to switch from crappier books to more literary. But that had the effect of actually hurting the publisher’s bottom line. The law of unintended consequences rears it head again: (via)

The bad news is that the profits that help support publication of less lucrative, more high-minded books depend on the sale of a lot of crap. And at least when it came to fiction, Garthwaite found that the net result of Oprah’s endorsements was to reduce aggregate sales. The reason was the one Franzen articulated back in 2001: Winfrey often selected books that posed a challenge for her TV audience. In practical terms, that meant that Oprah Book Club books took longer to read than the crap her viewers would otherwise read. That, in turn, meant that publishers ended up not only selling less crap, but also, in the aggregate, selling fewer books overall. Which probably meant (and I’m extrapolating here from Garthwaite’s findings) that these same publishers were correspondingly less able to publish literary fiction.

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