Oprah Winfrey tapped John Steinbeck's East of Eden last Wednesday as the first selection for her revived book club, telling her audience, "I think this may be the best book I've ever read. I brought the book club back to share this book with you." Within a day, the trade paperback jumped from number 2,356,000 to number 2 at Amazon.com, suggesting that readers aren't daunted by her new focus on "great reads that have stood the test of time."
Penguin, which has exclusive rights to the Nobel Prize— winning author's works, announced a new printing of 600,000 copies, followed by two additional printings totaling 190,000. However, it remains an open question whether thousands of used copies will flood the market. "Generally, with classics, people prefer to buy used editions," said Kathi Kirby, purchasing manager at Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., which sells used and new books. "We didn't buy as many as we usually do for Oprah picks, because we have so many used copies priced at $2.95."
Penguin usually ships between 40,000 and 50,000 copies of East of Eden annually. Last year's sales of 70,000 copies were the largest to date, following a five-month-long national celebration of the 100th anniversary of Steinbeck's birth.
The house was notified about the selection three weeks in advance of the announcement, an improvement over the single week it was given to print and distribute copies of Icy Sparks by Gwyn Hyman Rubio in 2001, said publicity director Maureen Donnelly. And in a move that may aim to sidestep sticky Franzenesque questions, the house packaged the books with detachable red bellybands that sport the club's logo, not the traditional Oprah sticker.
In another development, Oprah unveiled new features on www.oprah.com that allow readers to officially join the Book Club and access specialized reading guides, e-mail updates and online discussion groups for free. The club is likely to remain focused on backlist classics and may include works by living as well as dead authors, according to Harpo spokesperson Carly Ubersox. It will feature three to five authors per year, giving booksellers more time to display each selection but offering publishers fewer bonanzas.