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WARBeat the Reaper: A NovelThe Hellhound of Wall Street: How Ferdinand Pecora's Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American FinanceThe Evolution of Bruno LittlemoreThe Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, Red HarvestGlengarry Glen Ross

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Is this really the end of Oprah's Book Club?

Late last Thursday night, The Wall Street Journal implied that the end of The Oprah Winfrey Show is, to the publishing industry, a nuclear bomb set to detonate on 9/9/11.

Now, setting aside this absurd metaphor, which GalleyCat weighed in on Monday morning—has anyone out there even heard for certain that Oprah’s Book Club will end with Oprah’s daily talk show?

It seems to me there’s no reason why it should. Oprah is certainly bigger than her show, having built a multimedia empire that will add her OWN cable network in January 2011. The talk show is ending, but Oprah is not going anywhere. And she makes no mention of ending her book club.

But then, don’t you remember? She already ended the book club seven and a half years ago. (Be sure to read the comment at the end of that article, and let me know if it sounds like anything you’ve heard in the past few days.)

It’s more than a little disappointing to me that the ubiquity of corporate influence has us bemoaning future dollars lost, when in reality the publishing industry will live on with or without Oprah’s Book Club, as revered as it is. As publishing professionals, I wish we would all take a cue from Ms. Winfrey, who doesn’t think of herself as a businesswoman. The New York Times argues, and I agree, that she is chiefly motivated by passion, not money, and this is what makes her so influential.

Will that influence fade with the move from network to cable television? It’s possible that some of her legions of fans will be saying goodbye to her for good, but I’m willing to bet that number is negligible. Associated Press points out that The Oprah Winfrey Show’s viewership has already declined by more than half from its peak of 12.6 million viewers a day in the early 1990s. But I would argue that, gradually, many of those viewers have simply been choosing a different way to receive Oprah’s message. Instead of watching her hour-long show every day, they are visiting her website—which receives about 5.6 million pageviews a day according to valuatemysite—and prominently features, yes, Oprah’s Book Club.

And let’s not forget the 2.4 million subscribers to O, The Oprah Magazine. While it’s had its share of problems, word from The New York Post on Saturday was that Oprah’s magazine “is in the midst of a sweeping redesign that will be unveiled as part of the 10th anniversary issue next May.” The magazine also has a prominent books section, whose online version is even richer. (Again, the lower circulation numbers are probably the result of more readers choosing to get the content online.) The savvy September hiring of Sara Nelson, former editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly, shows a commitment to books going forward.

Now, will all those people who regularly read Oprah’s magazine and the content on Oprah’s website—the operative words being regularly read—suddenly stop buying the books she’s given no indication she’ll stop recommending?

I think not. I think we should all take a deep breath, in and out, and get back to work.

But what do you think?

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8 comments to Is this really the end of Oprah's Book Club?

  • Whatever happens with the TV show, I for one really enjoy the coverage books receive in her mag. We don’t subscribe, but our doctor’s office does. In fact, my wife was recently angry at me because I was reading the book reviews instead of talking to her. I told her, “Hey, I have you all day, I only have Oprah while we’re here. Once I also “borrowed” an O magazine from our Vet (I returned it a few days later).

    With Sarah Nelson now at the helm, I’m sure there’s solid book coverage to come.

  • John Osborne

    Interesting post, Chris. Seems the death knell never stops ringing, does it?

    • It never stops, John. Last week, Publishers Weekly published what was essentially an obituary to Oprah’s Book Club. I don’t get it…am i missing something? I keep waiting for someone to forward me an announcement that her book club is, in fact, ending. But that hasn’t happened yet.

  • Chris,

    Just found your name mentioned on AW along with your blog address. I checked the VSA site to learn a little more about your interests. It wasn’t very informative regarding whether you’re currently considering MG or YA fantasy.

    I hate to waste your time with a query if this isn’t something you’re interested in.

    Thanks for any additional information.

  • It’s safe to say by now that Oprah pretty much rules the world!
    She can turn anything to gold with a recommendation. That said, her move to cable television is broadening her scope not lessening it. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Oprah Winfrey Show winds up on OWN.
    In regards to her books and book clubs I don’t see that going anywhere fast. The media sure does love its negativity.
    It’s like you said, there is a vast other world on Oprah.com and in her magazine that represents the books and book clubs. Her TV entity has already been ingrained in the hearts and minds of loyal followers. The books will be just fine.
    -Cynthia Vespia
    Author of the Demon Hunter Trilogy

    • In this post, I stopped myself from predicting that OWN ratings will exceed those of The Oprah Winfrey Show, simply because that would be a very bold call. No one knows yet what will happen when you stretch out her viewership over an entire day of programming. It’s a distinct possibility, however, that some of the primetime programming they have in the works could produce ratings that rival or exceed those of the talk show. Let’s put it this way: I won’t be surprised if they do.

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