Today show book club idea attracts publisher interest

NEW YORK: The Today show's new book club does not debut until June. But publishing houses, jilted by Oprah Winfrey's decision to scale back her endorsements, have already commenced the courtship.

NEW YORK: The Today show's new book club does not debut until June. But publishing houses, jilted by Oprah Winfrey's decision to scale back her endorsements, have already commenced the courtship.

"I've received a few calls,

said Allison Gollust, senior manager for press and publicity for NBC News and spokesperson for Today. "I'm sure that means our literary editor, Andrea Smith, has received many more."

Winfrey's statement came on April 5. Three days later, NBC stepped in to implement an idea that Gollust said the network had long been considering.

"This is something that we've tossed around for months,

she explained.

"We feature more than 200 books per year, but we also thought there was only room in this country for one big book club."

The books discussed on Today won't be favorites of the hosts; instead, celebrity authors will recommend works by less-well-known peers. (To prevent self-serving selections, writers won't be allowed to choose books released by their own publishers.)

Each lucky tome will be discussed twice - first in an introductory discussion, and again a month later during an in-depth dissection conducted by a group of readers recruited by the program's producers.

The average Today show audience falls around 1 million short of Winfrey's 7 million viewers. Whether its book-club format will approach the potency of Winfrey's remains to be seen.

As reported in Publishers Weekly, titles bearing the Oprah imprimatur sold an average of 1.5 million copies in 1999. The six she picked last year didn't fare as well, averaging less than half that amount. But it was still enough to make publicists swoon; the majority of releases never crack 30,000.

"Literary fiction is the hardest to promote, because from a couple of removes, it all looks the same,

explained Jerome Kramer, editor-in-chief of Book magazine. "An endorsement becomes buzz when it comes from someone with a solid track record. The Today show could provide that, and I think it sounds like a great idea."

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