Mark Zuckerberg may be next book club guru

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a New Year's resolution to read two books a month and is encouraging others to read along with him. His first pick, The End of Power, quickly sold out and made its way onto Amazon's bestseller list, an early indication that he is poised to shake up the publishing world.

Facebook CEO's New Year's resolution is to read a book every 2 weeks

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's 2015 New Year's resolution is to read two books every month and his first selection, shared with 30 million Facebook followers, quickly sold out. (Jonathan Ernst /Reuters)

Move over Oprah Winfrey, there's a new book club guru in town.

He's already rich and famous like the former talk show host and now Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is following in her footsteps by inspiring followers to pick up a book — and by sending sales of that book soaring for one lucky author.

Thanks to his New Year's resolution, Zuckerberg is poised to take over from Winfrey as a kingmaker of sorts in the publishing world. He's challenging himself to read a book every two weeks and will be sharing his picks and encouraging discussion about them through a Facebook group called A Year of Books.

Oprah's Book Club, launched in 1996, was wildly successful and over the years it existed it drove dozens of authors to the bestseller lists and won Winfrey awards and accolades from the publishing industry. The club wound down after her widely syndicated talk show ended, but in 2012 it was revived with Oprah's Book Club 2.0. She has only made three selections since then.

Winfrey's a powerful celebrity who owns a media empire, but Zuckerberg has 30 million followers on Facebook. He can easily reach a massive and global audience, and a young one as well. The last few days are an early indication that Zuckerberg will be shaking up the publishing industry in 2015 and helping a select number of authors sell more books and maybe become household names.

Zuckerberg arrived at his idea for a personal challenge for 2015 after soliciting suggestions from Facebook users. He announced the Year of Books and his first selection — The End of Power by Moises Naim — late Thursday night on his Facebook page.

Naim and his publisher, Perseus Book Group, were caught by surprise and weren't prepared for the reaction – print copies of the book sold out right away and e-book sales jumped.

'Seismic shift' in demand unexpected

"No one anticipated a seismic shift in demand and so it was quickly out of stock," David Steinberger, president and CEO of the company, said in an interview Wednesday. The company has technology that allowed it to quickly fill print edition orders over the weekend and shelves were stocked again by Monday.

The company has been fielding order requests from around the world, including Canada's Indigo book store chain. Steinberger said he was surprised that even though word of the book is travelling through digital media, there is a high demand for hard copies of the book, not just e-books.

It's a make or break thing for an author, it's a bit like winning the lottery.- Carolyn Wood, executive editor of the Association of Canadian Publishers

The End of Power was published in 2013, and was well-reviewed and garnered some attention but was by no means a world famous bestseller. Naim, former editor of Foreign Policy magazine, explores how the world's power structures are shifting and how traditionally dominant players are being challenged and in some cases toppled by smaller, anti-establishment players and by individuals.

"The trend towards giving people more power is one I believe in deeply, and I'm looking forward to reading this book and exploring this in more detail," Zuckerberg wrote.

When he announced The End of Power as his pick there were only a few thousand copies available across the U.S. Now tens of thousands are in print and headed for bookstores around the world, and by Wednesday afternoon the book was number 14 on Amazon's bestseller list.

Zuckerberg said in choosing books to read this year he'll put an emphasis on learning about different cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.

Zuckerberg seeks different 'media diet'

"Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today. I'm looking forward to shifting more of my media diet towards reading books," he wrote.

Steinberger said he found it interesting that the CEO of such a massive social media and content-sharing platform is turning to books for intellectual fulfilment.

"I think it's significant that he is emphasizing books. He's not pointing people to Tweets or Snapchat photos, he's pointing people to books," he said.

The internet and social media have changed the way people discover and choose what to read, and Zuckerberg's Year of Books Facebook group will provide yet another forum for that change to be carried out.
Oprah Winfrey is pictured on the set of her talk show in 2008, announcing her latest pick for Oprah's Book Club. Her selections drove books to the bestseller lists, a phenomenon dubbed 'the Oprah effect.' (Harpo Productions/Associated Press)

"It's an exciting area for authors, readers, and book publishers to see how Facebook and other social media vehicles are going to be part of helping people discover what books to read," Steinberger said.

James Hatch, a publicist for Canadian publisher Dundurn Press, said Zuckerberg's New Year's resolution could become bigger than Oprah's Book Club ever was.

"I think in some ways it might be more successful, just because of the viral nature of social media," he said, adding a vote of support for Zuckerberg's idea. "If it gets people reading, it's terrific.”

Great for authors

Carolyn Wood, executive director of the Association of Canadian Publishers, said the benefits of Zuckerberg's book club include readers being exposed to titles they might not otherwise read and actually buying books, which are obviously good things for the authors and their publishers – but she has a concern.

"The caveat, and it doesn't outweigh the benefits, but it does make you wonder, how many books of a diverse range are suffering because of this blockbuster cycle?" she said. "Books that get big hype tend to displace other books.”

It's already hard for books to break through and become buzzworthy and initiatives like Winfrey's and Zuckerberg's can unintentionally take attention – and real estate in bookstores – away from other works.

But overall, Zuckerberg's encouragement for people around the world to read along with him in 2015 is a great thing for authors, she said.

"It's a make or break thing for an author, it's a bit like winning the lottery," Wood said.


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