As the Oprah Book Club proved so well during its 15 year run (from 1996 to 2011), nothing sells books today like a popular celebrity endorsement. A typical endorsement by Oprah Winfrey increased the sales of a particular book by one million or more. Book publishers even coined a term for this: the Oprah effect. The impact of the Oprah effect dramatically transformed the printing industry — it is estimated that the 70 books that Winfrey selected for her book club went on to sell more than 55 million copies! This year famous Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has decided to take a page from Oprah’s book. Zuckerberg’s post on January 2, 2015 announced his challenge, which he calls “A Year of Books”: “My challenge for 2015 is to read a new book every other week — with an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies… I’m excited for my reading challenge. I’ve found reading books very intellectually fulfilling. Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I’m looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books. If you want to follow along on my challenge and read the same books I do, I’ve created a page, A Year of Books, where I’ll post what I’m reading.”
People liked what Zuckerberg wrote — the post garnered over 200,000 likes in just a few days. Jonathan Galassi, president of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, expressed enthusiasm on behalf of the publishing industry: “It’s always good news when figures with influence in the culture call attention to the importance of books.” Even more important, is that Zuckerberg is promoting reading and reading frequently (Zuckerberg plans to read a new book every two weeks). Sadly, Americans are not reading many books these days. The statistics are discouraging — in a report by the National Endowment for the Arts conducted in 2012, only 54.6 of adults (about 128 million adults) read a book of any type outside of school or work. Of that percentage, 62% read nonfiction and fiction, and 21% read only nonfiction.
And what is Zuckerberg’s first book? The first book selected for the Zuckerberg Book Club is The End of Power by Moises Naim, the former executive director of the World Bank and current senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Zuckerberg discusses his choice: “It’s a book that explores how the world is shifting to give individual people more power that was traditionally only held by large governments, militaries and other organizations. The trend towards giving people more power is one I believe in deeply, and I’m looking forward to reading this book and exploring this in more detail.” Let’s just hope he does not follow the example of millions of high school and college kids that skip reading the original work and hop on to the internet to hunt for Cliff notes on the book.
Not surprisingly, The End of Power sold out immediately on Amazon which raises an important concern for the publishing industry, and underscores how the Zuckerberg Book Club differs from the Oprah Book Club. Jim Milliot, editorial director at Publisher’s Weekly elaborates: “The [two book clubs] are so very different. For one thing, Zuckerberg hasn’t worked with the publishers yet to help facilitate sales.” Winfrey worked closely with publishers to make sure they were aware of her selections and could print enough copies to meet demand. Milliot believes the biggest challenge will be inventory — by the time each Zuckerberg selection is printed, his book club will be on to the next book. Like a poorly designed app, the book club was not carefully thought through. It will be interesting to see if the Zuckerberg effect will have the same impact over time as the Oprah effect. Stay tuned.
For further reading: https://www.facebook.com/zuck/posts/10101828640656261