June 26, 2022

Reese Witherspoon and Emma Roberts boost book sales with book clubs

When the author’s publicist Maria Hummel called to tell her that her novel “Still Lives” would be included in the selection of a book club launched by Reese Witherspoon, she was amazed. “I just remember looking in the mirror and thinking that the person I’m looking at isn’t me, the person it’s happening to isn’t me,” Hummel recalled.

The day Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine club posted the news on Instagram last summer, the relatively unknown novelist saw her Amazon sales rankings skyrocket to No. 11 and No. 2 for Audible audiobook sales. . According to market research firm NPD Group, Hummel saw a 103% increase in sales in three months. And it was a big career boost. Time Magazine then chose “Still Lives” as one of the best new reads of summer 2018. She soon began to see her book making international waves.

“With the explosion in readership, my book was going to some really interesting places, you know, Alaska, then Denmark, then by a pool, then in the jungle, so it was kind of fun to read. .see,” Hummel said.

There was only one book club that really mattered to authors: Oprah’s. A personal recommendation on his daytime talk show could result in hundreds of thousands — or even a million or more — in hardcover book sales. But as publishing faces a rapidly changing landscape, from the closure of brick-and-mortar stores to the increased prominence of audiobooks, a wider range of book clubs have sprung up, led by influential celebrities, athletes and TV programs for moms. Book clubs are also a springboard for finding books to choose from for movies and TV projects.

The list of high-profile stars showcasing their bookish side has blossomed since Winfrey’s debut in 1996. The likes of Witherspoon, NFL athlete Andrew Luck, Emma Roberts, Sarah Jessica Parker, Emma Watson and even Barack Obama is now sharing their favorite page-turners online. platforms. According to NPD’s Kristen McLean, the book industry has had a weak year in terms of overall sales, but online celebrity book clubs like Hello Sunshine are giving the industry a boost. Witherspoon’s Fiction Picks have managed to carve out a “phenomenal” 2% of all fiction sales since June 2017.

“This idea of ​​celebrity book clubs in the present day certainly goes back to Oprah’s first book club, but since the rise of social media, it’s really taken us into a different kind of environment,” said McLean, adding that these celebrity endorsements are crucial. for new authors. “It’s just a very crowded information market and a lot of books are being published.”

At a time when original content is Hollywood’s holy grail, these book clubs are a fertile source of new content. When Oprah used her platform to celebrate a book, the film adaptation frequently followed — from Bernhard Schlink’s “The Reader” to Alice Hoffman’s “Here on Earth” and Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” (in which Witherspoon herself- even starred and received an Oscar nomination for ). Witherspoon took over Oprah’s record and more, keeping that process in-house and picking up some of the biggest bestsellers. Some of the Hello Sunshine choices were chosen by Witherspoon’s production company (which bears the same name), such as a television adaptation of Celeste Ng’s novel “Little Fires Everywhere” for Hulu, an Amazon series of “Daisy Jones and the Six” and the film adaptation of Gail Honeyman’s “Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine” with MGM.

“We never offer options on books and sit on them,” said Sarah Harden, CEO of Hello Sunshine. “Because at the end of the day, nothing makes us happier than helping an author make more money from royalties and selling their books. We also bring that life to the screen. When we decide to go for something, we put our heads down and figure out how to bring it to life.

But in other cases, just being considered a celebrity’s favorite book is reward enough. Last year, Obama shared a list of some of his favorite reads on Facebook, and a selection, “A Home for Mr. Biswas,” from VS Naipaul, saw sales rise 2,300% in three months, according to NDP. Luck’s club targets young “rookie” readers, promoting classic titles like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl and “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift. For “veteran” readers, he suggests titles like “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonathan Haidt and “Caramelo” by Sandra Cisneros. This summer, Jimmy Fallon reinstated his own “Tonight Show” book recommendation segment (started in 2018) asking viewers to vote for their summer pick. He said on a show in July that he received 1 million votes in a week. The winner? “Ask Again, Yes” by author Mary Beth Keane.

Celebrity book clubs also help attract customers to local bookstores. Papercuts JP, a small 400-square-foot bookstore in Boston, has seen a huge increase in online orders and walk-ins since it was introduced to Emma Roberts’ Belletrist book club in July, according to the store owner, Kate Layte. Each month, Roberts and his partner Karah Preiss choose an independent bookstore and a selection of books. July’s winner was Lisa Taddeo’s recent hot release “Three Women.”

In the first month of a new hardcover book’s release, Layte typically only sold three or four copies. With “Three Women,” she says the little shop sold at least 20 to 30 copies in three weeks.

“We’ve definitely had pedestrians say to us, ‘Oh, that’s exactly the book I was looking for, I saw you online,’ and then they’ll stay and buy a few more books and just really build that rapport,” said said Layte “It’s really exciting to see the video online [activity] become a physical interaction.

Both Belletrist and Hello Sunshine focus on female writers and protagonists in their monthly picks. For Sarah Harden, CEO of Hello Sunshine, the “heart of a book club” goes to groups of women who meet and connect with friends through their love of storytelling. Other women-run clubs like Our Shared Shelf by Emma Watson focus on feminist topics, with books like “Why Men Earn More: The Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap — And What Women Can Do About It” by Warren Farrell and “Every Woman’s Guide to Saving the Planet” by Natalie Isaacs.

“The whole mission of [Hello Sunshine] puts women at the center of the story who have agency, who aren’t the supporting character, they drive the narrative,” Harden said. “All of our book choices have this in common. Our business is built on the belief that storytelling can change culture, and if we can change culture, we can change the way women walk across the world.

As for publishers, McLean said they’re “totally excited” about celebrity book clubs because the difficult task of selling books in 2019 just got easier. “[Publishers] have not forgotten the borders [closing]”, said McLean. “What’s not to like when one of these guys chooses your book?