Oprah's New Book Club Pick Has a Dickensian Feel

Oprah WinfreyOn the very day that Oprah Winfrey chats with Jonathan Franzen, the author of her most recent Book Club pick, she's set to announce that the next selection will be an even more familiar literary face: Charles Dickens.

As the Associated Press reported yesterday and now confirmed elswhere, Winfrey has selected Dickens's classic novels A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations, which will be reissued together as a single, 800-page volume with the Oprah's Book Club sticker from Penguin Classics (PSO). The paperback edition has a list price of $20, while Penguin's e-book edition will sell for $7.99.

Oprah Book Club version of Charles Dickens's Of course, that's the "official" edition, and the Penguin Classics version will be the only one bearing the Oprah's Book Club logo (pictured). But because Dickens's novels have long been in the public domain, readers can also purchase the Barnes & Noble (BKS) Classics paperback editions of either Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities for less. Or they can download either book as a free Kindle (AMZN) edition, a free e-book from Project Gutenberg or a $1.99 copy that can be read on B&N's Nook e-reader.

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As a result, while Penguin will be the obvious beneficiary of Oprah's book club benediction, just in time for the holidays and to the tune of six-figure sales, Barnes & Noble will be the second-most obvious winner here. The largest book retailer in the country can easily create in-store displays that champion its own, and far cheaper, classic editions of the Dickens books alongside the Penguin versions. B&N Classics copies may not be able to show the Oprah's Book Club sticker, but they won't need to -- especially if they're displayed with a sign that clearly indicates that Oprah chose these books.

Beyond which publishers and retailers will benefit, Oprah's newest selection continues a peculiar skewing toward male-only picks that has persisted since 2003. Of the 22 books she has chosen for the Book Club, 20 are by men -- and a perfect 16 for 16 since January 2005. At this point, it seems ever likelier Oprah won't break this record until her show goes off the air in September and she migrates to her own cable network -- where the Book Club audience as a whole may well shrink.

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