The Oprah Effect: How TV Saved the Literary Star



Last Friday afternoon I came home to an excited message on my answering machine (yeah, I still have one of those…) My mother wanted to know if I’d seen Oprah, if I knew about the Kindles. At first I thought she was talking about some unique family, like the Duggars. But later that day I heard the news that Oprah Winfrey had once again sprinkled her magical TV dust over the publishing industry.

First she just suggested them….

Oprah started driving book sales over a decade ago with her selections for Oprah’s Book Club. It quickly became apparent that a nod from The Great One could ensure an author’s livelihood, and even fame, for years to come. Just ask James Frey. Okay – bad example.

Next, she took them online…

Oprah’s series of online classes, or interviews, with Eckhart Tolle took his book, A New Earth, from certain obscurity to a worldwide phenomena. (In the process it got her branded as the anti-Christ in some circles, but that’s another story.)

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Then she gave them away…

Last summer Winfrey teamed up with recurring Oprah Show guest Suze Orman to offer Orman’s latest book, Women & Money, for free in digital format. Orman professed that the offer was “not about getting people to buy the book, but getting them to read it”. However, the move didn’t exactly hurt sales. Instead, it built excitement for the book across other formats. Over a million copies were downloaded.

And now, she’s fully digital…

I have my doubts that a woman who held out on getting a cell phone until 2008 suddenly gets so gadget-happy that she devotes the good part of an hour of television and her brand to the digital book reader Kindle. However “life changing” the device actually is or is not for Oprah, one thing is certain: Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is happy about it.

Who knows, my mom may even buy one.