Saturday, May 02, 2009

Can CBS News and Obama Increase Book Sales?

I'm always fascinated by the power that celebrities have to dramatically increase book sales. We all know that Oprah can create instant bestsellers on her show - even for books published years earlier. The same thing happens, to a lesser degree, in the U.K. via the Richard and Judy Show. I remember when President Clinton was seen carrying a novel in his hand as he made his way to his helicopter for a trek to Camp David - instant bestsellerdom for another author.

Now I wonder if CBS News and President Obama are going to have the same impact with CBS's decision to publicize Obama's recent New York Times interview in which the president mentions the book he is currently reading. The three have teamed up to give Joseph O'Neil's Netherland a shot at the big bucks. This is not a new book, already having sold some 90,000 copies, so it will be interesting to see what, or if anything, happens.
When he gets tired of trying to solve the country’s problems, it seems President Obama likes to kick back with a novel: In an interview with the New York Times, the president said he is "sick of briefing books" and is reading "Netherland" by the Irish author Joseph O'Neill.
"Netherland," as one of New York Times's best books of the year, has already sold over 90,000 copies but that number might surge on the news. Mr. Obama has a way of making books wildly popular – when Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez gave him a copy of "Open Veins of Latin America," that book shot up to from about 50,000 in total sales to the become the second bestselling book on
What is it? Do people feel closer to celebrities if they can imagine that they are experiencing the same book that the celebrities have read? Is this really a good thing? Is it fair or is there room for under-the-table dealing to corrupt the whole process? It's a mystery to me, but I'm always happy for the authors and publishers who benefit because what's good for them generally is good for me as a reader.

As I write this, Netherland is number 790 on Amazon's list of bestselling fiction. Will it move?


  1. I can't speak for others, but for me it is a curiosity factor. I don't know anything about Netherland, but now am suddenly curious to learn more about it.

    As for Oprah recommendations, for me it usually means I suddenly lose any desire to read the book. Yes, some of the books she has recommended have been very good, but in the cases of the classics I was glad I read them before she put them on her reading list.

    Then again, this is coming from someone who avoids novels that make the NY Times Bestseller list based on several past disappointments.

  2. That's an interesting reaction, Alissa. I catch myself having a similar reaction to Oprah's recommendations because of my feelings about her as a personality - I tend to mark her book choices down because I don't have a whole lot of respect for her, personally. And don't even get me started again on those covers with her "book club" sticker on the front - I'm embarrassed to carry those around and won't be seen with a book marked by one of those things.

    As for what fiction any of the presidents might be reading, yes, I'm curious enough to check it out - in part, I think, to learn more about what the president enjoys reading. It's a little clue toward their intellectual makeup and curiosity.

  3. I read Netherland and I didn't really like it.

    I don't think that affected its sales at all.

  4. C.B., have you ever picked up a book based on this kind of situation? If so, was it curiosity or a trust that caused you to do it...and were you satisfied with the result?

  5. I'm so happy that we have a president who likes to read ...and reads novels! Incredulous, but happy.

  6. Same here - and what seems to be literary fiction (I'm guessing because I haven't read the book) rather than only the thrillers that Clinton and Bush seem to have been more drawn to.