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    Adventures of a rare book dealer (and former small bookshop owner).

24 Hours in the Life of a Used Book

Written on June 6, 2007

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I always have mixed feelings when a book I care about is chosen by Oprah for her book club (The Corrections, House of Sand and Fog, Night, East of Eden, Light in August…). On the one hand, I like that good books get read and that reading as a pastime is endorsed on such a mass level. These are undeniably good things. At the same time, I always fear some author debacle (see James Frey or Jonathan Franzen) or worry that in the meeting of mass culture and fine literature, the latter ends up the loser. I’m thinking of moments like when on an early Oprah book club episode one woman complained to Toni Morrison that she had trouble understanding some passages and found herself needing to review. “Yes, my dear,” Morrison replied in her imperious tone, “We call that READING.”

graph(4).jpgAnd now, on the day she snagged Cormac McCarthy’s only TV interview ever, Oprah had anointed Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer-winning novel, Middlesex. I had a couple copies in stock at the shop, so when I heard of the selection I headed over to Amazon to see what was happening with the online price and decide if I should bother listing my copies. Though at first it appeared not much was going on, as the above chart demonstrates (click to enlarge), the power of Oprah is not to be underestimated. Oprah single-handedly cut the number of of available used copies by more than half (from 375 to about 160) and nearly tripled the asking price (from $2.88 to $7.50), all in a scant 24 hours.

A few clarifications: First, this data is for the “old” trade paperback edition only (as opposed to the new “Oprah” edition). Second, that plummeting price for new copies represents the fact that Amazon sold out of the “old” edition (demonstrated by the fact they say copies will ship in “1-3 weeks”). Third, note the impressive jump in sales rank (500 or so to 17).

Oprah, we bow before your mighty influence.

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