Writers Agree: Oprah More Influential Than 9/11

By Kathryn Comment

From Word of Mouth’s letter to The Great One, imploring her to once again cast her magnanimous gaze upon the heathland of contemporary fiction:

In the publishing world, there’s a widely-held belief that the landscape of literary fiction is now a gloomy place. The terrorist attacks of September, 2001 are often cited as the beginning of a great downward shift. After that, we’ve been told, fiction sales flattened. After that, we’ve been told, the American public lost its taste for literary fiction.

However, the writer M. J. Rose, a novelist and long-time reporter on publishing news, has noticed something different. Her research suggests that the drastic downward shift actually happened six months after the attacks: fiction sales really began to plummet when the The Oprah Winfrey Book Club went off the air. When you stopped featuring contemporary authors on your program, Book Club members stopped buying new fiction, and this changed the face of American publishing. This phenomenon was a testament to the quality of your programs, the scope of your influence, and the amazing credibility you possess among loyal Book Club readers.

But the same information that gives the Word of Mouth writers cause to hope gives author Jennifer Weiner cause to wonder if “petitioning Oprah … [isn’t] a little short-sighted”:

The truth is, Oprah’s book club members might have dipped a toe into the long and distinguished tradition of literary discussion, but they didn’t stay to swim. She wasn’t able to turn her viewers into readers as much as she turned them into consumers, happy to pull out their wallets and buy whatever she endorsed, whether it was diet tips, dating advice, or a novel.