A Phrase We Hear a lot Lately: “I Read it Because I Heard About it on T.V.”

Whilst in a creative writing class in college a few years ago, a discussion on how to boost sales of your book once it is published occurred. Someone jokingly suggested sending a book to Oprah, hoping it might be good enough to be placed on Oprah’s Book Club list. This suggestion, though farfetched, is worth a try: every book Oprah has ever suggested for her book club manages to creep its way up the bestsellers list within days. Her book club is one of the most influential forces in publishing, and you can see it in the numbers: out of the 70 books she has singled out for her list, 59 have made it to the USA Today bestseller list. Her influence on book sales even has a name: The Oprah Effect.

The Oprah Effect is compelling you to go out and buy this book, right now.

The Daily Show with John Stewart is finding its place in the publishing world, boosting a book’s sales by having an author on the show to discuss his or her self, as well as the book. If any of you saw the episode of The Daily Show last week in which John Stewart interviewed David Mitchell about his recently published English translation of The Reason I Jump, a Japanese autobiography about a young teenage boy with autism, you know what I’m talking about. Probably because Stewart claimed it was “one of the most remarkable books” he’s ever read, the book jumped from 556 on the sales list up to the number two best-selling title on Amazon, and number three on the “movers and shakers” section. This jump in sales happened overnight, making the book a literal overnight sensation.

Damn! The Oprah Effect strikes again!

In July, Reza Aslan went on Fox News to discuss his book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, which turned into one of the most entertaining and embarrassing book discussions on television due to the inability of the interviewer to get past the fact that Aslan, a Muslim man, could write a book about Jesus. Because she’s ignorant. (Fragment intended). The book became a number one best seller overnight.

I think promoting a book on television is a great thing. People should be reading more, but I think a lot of people are incapable of finding a book they will enjoy because there are so many books out there; they may not even try to find a book because they don’t actually know what they want to read, and television personalities are narrowing it down for viewers, as well as making the reading of a book exciting by discussing it.

Although I’m a book lover, fanatical reader, English major, and literary freak to the point that I’m dressing as a literary character for Halloween even though it isn’t considered sexy, I can’t pretend the Oprah Effect doesn’t affect me; I, like so many others, have felt inclined to read particular books because of a discussion I saw on a popular television show. Sure, there are some books and authors discussed who confuse me because I think they’re terrible and superficial, and not something I would ever consider promoting to anyone. (Yes, I actually—unfortunately—read Twilight and The Last Song so that I can be entitled to my opinions and back them up with evidence straight out of the books). As bad as some books promoted on television may be, there are some incredible, life-changing books I have picked up, or have put on my reading list, because I saw them on television. One book in particular that I remember watching Oprah discuss on her talk show when I was a teenager was Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom. Albom appeared on her show, and I was so excited by the book discussion that I went directly onto my father’s half.com account to purchase Tuesdays With Morrie, which became my first life-changing book. (Highly recommend this one, guys!).

Here are some books from Oprah’s Book Club that you might recognize:

  • White Oleander, by Janet Finch
  • The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
  • The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey
  • East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follet
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
  • Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

What are your opinions? Why do you think television book discussions have the ability to positively affect a book’s sales? Have you read a book because you saw it discussed on television? Feel free to share in the comments below!

– Allison Bellows


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