April 25, 2005

What'd they do before Oprah went on the air?

A group of writers calling themselves Word of Mouth: An Association of Women Authors has written a rambling open letter to Oprah Winfrey, begging that she return to selecting titles for her Oprah Book Club.

The writers, who include Amy Tan, Mary Gordon, Maureen Howard and more than 150 others, claim that fiction book sales are down, and that only the return of Oprah's book club can save the industry.

(R)esearch suggests that the drastic downward shift actually happened six months after the (9/11) attacks: fiction sales really began to plummet when the The Oprah Winfrey Book Club went off the air. When you stopped featuring contemporary authors on your program, Book Club members stopped buying new fiction, and this changed the face of American publishing. This phenomenon was a testament to the quality of your programs, the scope of your influence, and the amazing credibility you possess among loyal Book Club readers.

Sales figures, in the context of the literary market, do not merely reflect profits; they are an indicator of literacy as well. A country in which ordinary people flock to bookstores to buy the latest talked-about work of fiction is a vibrantly literate country. Every month your show sent hundreds of thousands of people (mostly women, who are the largest group of literary fiction readers) into bookstores. The contemporary books you chose sold between 650,000 and 1,200,000 copies apiece.

We'd like to ask that you consider focusing, once again, on contemporary writers in your Book Club.

The American literary landscape is in distress. Sales of contemporary fiction are still falling, and so are the numbers of people who are reading.

Oprah Winfrey, we wish you'd come back.

Do you mean to tell me that there are no other avenues for legitimate exposure for authors other than The Oprah Winfrey Show?

Let's see. For the past couple of years, the Oprah Book Club has focused on classic works, including the last one chosen, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Sales of books selected for the Oprah Book Club continue to set sales records, and act as the catalyst for local book clubs and book groups across the nation. So is this letter truly a plea for a downtrodden marketplace, or is it in reality a batch of authors begging for a handout?

Posted by mhking at April 25, 2005 12:25 PM

What makes the book peddlers so special, that they deserve this "handout" as you put it? Publishers aren't making enough profits and that's Oprah's fault?

Why shouldn't musicians demand Oprah start a compact disc club?

I'm sure she's smart enough to see right through this. Good item.

Posted by: Brian Maloney at April 26, 2005 01:32 AM

Oprah seems to have a lot of power. I guess people just want to capitalize on her.

Posted by: cynthia at April 26, 2005 10:25 AM
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