The 'Oprah Effect': Bad for Book Sales?

Her endorsement is great for individual authors but bad for booksellers.

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Oprah Winfrey (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

During Oprah's Book Club's 15-year run, anything she selected was pretty much guaranteed to become a best-seller, since sales seemed to shoot automatically through the roof. An author couldn't get any luckier than to be endorsed by the Queen of Talk.

But it turns out that big booksellers such as Barnes & Noble and the now defunct Borders didn't enjoy the same benefits. The theory is that Winfrey recommended books that took a long time to read, so people would buy just one instead of buying several shorter books. Bad news for business, but for readers, is there anything so wrong with literary quality over quantity?

From MSNBC:

In a new research paper, Northwestern University professor of management Craig Garthwaite labels Oprah's endorsements "business stealing."

While sales of titles selected by Oprah spiked an average of 400 percent in the first week alone, and other books by those authors also enjoyed what Garthwaite termed an "economically significant" boost, readers' newfound interest in those authors came at the expense of other writers, titles and entire genres, he said. In the 12 weeks following each of Oprah's Book Club endorsements, sales in the adult fiction category decreased by an average of 2.5 percent, with romance, mystery and action categories showing the largest drop-off.

When Oprah endorsed a classic such as "Anna Karenina," the falloff in sales of other fiction books was more pronounced. Garthwaite's theory, based on linguistic comparisons, is that the books Oprah chose were longer and more challenging than what people were used to reading. In other words, a reader might wade through Tolstoy's tome instead of blasting through two or three paperback bodice-rippers.

"A lot of people do have set reading habits," Garthwaite said. "If people are not increasing the amount of time they're reading, but they're reading books that are longer and harder, than they're consuming fewer books throughout the year."

Read more at MSNBC.

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