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The Oprah Effect Closing the Book on Oprah’s Book Club

3 minute read | May 2011

Oprah Winfrey, fairy godmother? For many in the publishing world, that’s not far off. Oprah’s seal of approval, manifested in Oprah’s Book Club, translates to new editions, heightened attention and sales bumps (or jumps, as was sometimes the case). Oprah’s Book Club—with picks ranging from older classics to lesser known works to Pulitzer Prize-winners—became a coveted and exclusive fraternity founded in 1996, with branded special editions selling more than 22 million copies in the past 10 years.

As Oprah prepares to sign off from her daily talk show for good, The Nielsen Company takes a look at Oprah’s Book Club selections from the past 10 years.

Top 10 Bestselling Oprah’s Book Club Books in the Past 10 Years (US)
1 Eckhart Tolle A New Earth Jan-05 3,370,000
2 James Frey A Million Little Pieces Sep-05 2,695,500
3 Elie Wiesel Night Jan-06 2,021,000
4 Cormac McCarthy The Road Mar-07 1,385,000
5 Joyce Carol Oates We Were the Mulvaneys Jan-01 1,348,000
6 John Steinbeck East of Eden Jun-03 1,314,000
7 Ken Follett The Pillars of the Earth Nov-07 1,109,000
8 Gabriel García Márquez Love in the Time of Cholera Oct-07 817,000
9 Gwyn Hyman Rubio Icy Sparks Mar-01 794,000
10 David Wroblewski The Story of Edgar Sawtelle Oct-08 770,000
Source: The Nielsen Company/ BookScan

*Figures rounded to the nearest hundred. Does not include sales from Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club.

While its undeniable that Oprah’s Book Club delivered mega-sales for its selections, it can be hard to track officially as all editions might have benefited (not just the Oprah edition), including used copies. However, there are some titles that catapulted to bestseller lists following Oprah’s nod. These include:

Oprah Pick #63 (September 17, 2009): “Say You’re One of Them” by Uwem Akpan (Hachette)

While the trade paperback and hardcover editions sold just 47,500 units together, the Oprah trade paperback sold a whopping 405,000 units—an 853 percent increase.


Oprah Pick #62 (September 18, 2008): “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski (Ecco)

According to Oprah.com, Oprah compares this book to classics by John Steinbeck and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Sales nearly tripled (770,000 paperbacks) after being named to Oprah’s Book Club.


Oprah Pick #57 (May 28, 2007): The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Random House – Knopf/Vintage)

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and named to Oprah’s Book Club in 2007, this title became a movie in 2009, so it’s no surprise that the book has sold more than 1.5 million copies in total.  However, P.O. (pre-Oprah), “The Road” sold just 156,000 units (178,000 copies of the hardcover edition to date); the Oprah trade paperback edition has sold a whopping 1.4 million units.


Oprah Pick #54 (September 22, 2005): “A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey (Random House – Nan A. Talese/Anchor)

Perhaps the most famous and controversial of Oprah’s picks, “A Million Little Pieces” was that autobiography that wasn’t.  Still, Oprah’s magic worked wonders.  The Oprah trade paperback edition of “A Million Little Pieces” sold a stunning 2.7 million units, while the hardcover had sold 149,500.


*All figures have been rounded to the nearest hundred.

*Source: Nielsen BookScan

*Nielsen BookScan’s US Consumer Market Panel currently covers approximately 75% of retail sales and continues to grow. BookScan does not track sales from Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club.

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