From its inception in the mid-1990s until 2011, Oprah's Book Club regularly turned obscure books into No. 1 bestsellers, encouraging Winfrey's legion of followers to pick up a novel and read. There was no endorsement more powerful, but when Oprah's talk show concluded, so did the promotional machine. Winfrey just announced, however, a 2.0 version of her book club designed to launch special digital editions of her selections for the Kindle, Nook, and iPad. The first pick: Cheryl Strayed's travel memoir Wild. Winfrey will host weekly webisode discussions of the book, leading up to a live-streamed interview with Strayed in July. The announcement comes as ratings for Winfrey's cable network OWN continue to flag. Could a revival of her wildly popular book club be a success — and save Oprah's struggling brand?
It won't work: While the digital dimensions of Book Club's 2.0 are intriguing, Oprah just doesn't have a platform on par with The Oprah Winfrey Show anymore, says Husna Haq at The Christian Science Monitor. She may still have a cable network, weekly reality series, and magazine at her disposal, but her reach is relatively limited. The audience for her reality series, Oprah's Next Chapter, tops out at about one million viewers — 1/12th the size of her audience during her prime.
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It all hinges on the choice of book: The old book club was actually losing its steam towards the end of its run, says Jen Doll at The Atlantic. Her last pick, a special edition of Dicken's A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, sold rather pitifully. Still, Strayed's book seems a lot more likely to profit from "The Oprah Effect," given that it's a "thrilling memoir" in the mold of James Frey's A Million Little Pieces, which was perhaps Oprah's most memorable choice the first time around. Even without her talk show, "she's still Oprah," and publishers will likely be clamoring for her endorsement.
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Things aren't looking good: Winfrey doesn't seem to have the "clout with the reading public" she had when her book club was at the peak of its popularity, says Newsday. So far, the response to the announcement of the new book club has been tepid. Typically, the unveiling of a new selection would rocket the book to the top of the bestseller chart within hours. In the first hours after this weekend's announcement, Wild had enjoyed only a moderate bump on Amazon.
"Oprah's Book Club going digital"