Charles Dickens Fails to Get Oprah’s Book-Club Bump

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George Burns / AP

Oprah’s latest book club pick of a certain Charles Dickens hasn’t troubled the charts. Great Expectations? Better downsize them to Small.

On paper — literally! — La Winfrey’s choice of A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations (both books were bound together) seemed smart enough for the reader was getting classic literature at relatively good value. (NewsFeed wrote about the original announcement.) But the stats aren’t backing it up with the announced printing of 750,000 copies not cracking the top 10 on Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And per Nielsen BookScan, which tracks roughly 75% of sales, it only sold 21,000 copies its first week, coming in at No. 43 among best-sellers over that period.

(See TIME’s top 10 books of 2010.)

But a reason has emerged for the sluggish sales: the rise of the e-reader. This is Oprah’s first pick that has been in the “public domain” since the emergence of the Kindle (and its competitors). What does that mean exactly? As the copyright on Dickens’ back catalog has long expired, they can be sold by anyone, at any price, in any format. And that begs the question: why would you shell out $20 for the Penguin paperback or its e-edition at $7.99 if you can download them for free? What’s more, there isn’t even the need for a spoiler alert because Amazon announced this in a press statement on the day of Winfrey’s pick.

“We’ve found that customers love to discover — or rediscover — classic books on Kindle and we’re sure these Dickens books will find new readers as an Oprah’s Book Club selection,” Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Kindle Content, said in the statement. “Millions of free, out-of-copyright books are available to read on Kindle, including these two classic Dickens books.”

(See a TIME video from Dickens World.)

Indeed, these versions have made the top 10 of Amazon’s free downloads list and while Dickens is clearly unable to do anything about it, you can bet your bottom dollar — which as we’ve just learned, is one dollar more than you need — that Oprah won’t be going down this particular path again. One wonders when Jonathan Franzen will be done with his next novel. (via AP)

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