It's been a minute since we've written a blog post trying to find the new book club maven who can rival the selling power of Oprah. This is partly because it's been a while since Oprah chose a new book club pick: Her last one was Michelle Obama's Becoming way back in November 2018. And it's partly because no candidates have appeared on our radar. That is, until now. When we saw the EW article, How Jenna Bush Hager became the new book club queen, we had to investigate their claim that Hager demonstrates "an individual power not seen since Oprah's glory days."
Jenna Bush Hager is the daughter of former American president George W. Bush and is currently a co-host on the Today show on NBC. She launched her book club, Read with Jenna, live on the Today show on March 6 of this year, shortly after she began her co-hosting gig. So Jenna has a platform and built-in audience for her book club.
Unlike our previous instalments in this series, where we directly compared recent books picked by Oprah against those chosen by Reese Witherspoon, Emma Roberts, and other celebrities, we don't have a recent Oprah pick to graph against Hager's picks. (Plus, it seems unfair to compare the biography from one of the most recognizable women in North America (Michelle Obama) to Jenna Bush Hager's picks, since "[s]he focuses mostly on new, unknown authors" for her book club selections.)
What we can do, though, is look at sales of Hager's picks in the weeks after her announcements. We also realized that in May, both Hager and Witherspoon announced their new book club picks on the first of the month, so we can compare those sales to see if Hager's influence is greater than Witherspoon's.
Sales impact of Read with Jenna's book club picks
Publishers Lunch recently looked at Hager's picks and found that "her selections do have noticeable impact, and provide a clear sales lift" in the US. They shared the first four weeks of sales following three different spring announcements:
March pick: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin, 22,950 US copies
April pick: The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams, 7,800 copies
May pick: A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum, 10,750 copies
So how did the books fare in the Great White North? The Today show's impact clearly crosses the border along with cable packages, so it's plausible that Read with Jenna's book club has an impact here, but does it? Let's look at the print sales in the Canadian, English-language trade market for her first three book club picks.
March: The Last Romantics
The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin went on sale on Feb. 5, 2019 in Canada. (The Hardcover, 9780062358202, and Trade Paperback, 9781443436304, editions both went on sale the same day so we have combined their sales.) Jenna Bush Hager's inaugural book club announcement went out one month later on March 6. This is a good test case to see if her platform and celebrity were enough to drive sales in Canada.
Verdict: A definite bump in sales.
Sales of the book rose for the first three weeks after it went on sale. In the fourth week, sales declined a bit, but then, in the week of the announcement, Canadian sales of The Last Romantics rose to their highest point.
Print unit sales for The Last Romantics from the week before on-sale to the end of July 2019
April: The Unwinding of the Miracle
On to Hager's second pick: Julie Yip-Williams's The Unwinding of the Miracle. The sales impact in Canada from this book club announcement has been minimal, if there has been one at all. Sales for this title remained pretty consistent in the weeks after the April 1 announcement and even declined slightly at the end of that month.
Print unit sales for The Unwinding of the Miracle from the week before on-sale to the end of July 2019
May: A Woman is No Man
This month, both Hager and Reese Witherspoon announced their book club picks on May 1. Hager chose Etaf Rum's A Woman is No Man and Witherspoon chose From Scratch by Tembi Locke. In the US, according to EW, "[w]ithin hours, Hager’s choice ranked among Amazon’s top five best-sellers, while Witherspoon’s hadn’t cracked the top 50." What happened in Canada?
There is a fairly significant sales bump for A Woman is No Man in the week of Hager's announcement, but Witherspoon's pick, From Scratch, has consistently sold more copies. Witherspoon's impact is harder to ascertain since the announcement and the book's on-sale date were so close together.
Print unit sales for A Woman is No Man and From Scratch from March 2019 to the end of July 2019
It seems that, while Jenna Bush Hager is as of yet unable to dethrone Oprah as queen of book sales influence, she is having a small, but noticeable impact on print books sales in the Canadian, English-language trade market. Maybe as her book club continues to grow, so will the sales of her picks. Time will tell.
Have another book club celebrity you want us to evaluate for Oprah-like sales influence? Let us know in the comments.
Are you a publisher, retailer, or librarian who wants to see more data like this? Check out SalesData, the sales tracking service for the Canadian English-language trade book market. If you’re already a subscriber, and want to see when sales spiked for specific titles (like we did here) check out the Single ISBN Report. If you still have questions, or want SalesData training, contact us!