Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago at the Midwest Writers Workshop, I was fortunate to work with Kathleen Rooney, an extraordinary poetry teacher. This literary superhero somehow got each member of her workshop to produce and/or revise about a half dozen poems in just as many hours. She also spoke on writing memoirs and getting published (she’s done a lot of both). And her dresses were fun and flouncy.
But wait: there’s more.
Kathleen is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, author of Oneiromance (an epithalamion), the forthcoming collection Robinson Alone, and other books. She is also an Oprahologist. That’s right. She knows all about the talk show queen, especially her renowned Book Club, and wrote the book Reading with Oprah: The Book Club that Changed America.
In this post, Kathleen gives us a rundown of Oprah’s new book club app. We like Oprah, and we like literary apps. T.S. Poetry’s novel by Deborah Henry, The Whipping Club, was named one of Oprah’s Best Summer Reads, and we’re introducing our very own new app, WordCandy, which lets users combine sweet words and beautiful images to make a friend’s day.
It’s a delightful new world.
Apple’s slogan “There’s an app for that” is parroted ubiquitously because it can be applied to just about anything. As of June 1, 2012, it can also be applied to Oprah Winfrey’s book club. On that date, Oprah announced she was bringing back her popular club under the title Oprah’s Book Club 2.0, and that this time, she was going digital.
The new club is being billed as “a fully interactive online community for people who love reading” and is taking advantage of Twitter, Facebook, and GroupMe — a free mobile application that allows group text messaging.
Starting with the memoir Wild by Cheryl Strayed, participants can download a specific Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 edition of her selection for Nook, Kindle and iPad. The extras — Oprah’s personal notes and the reading guide — are available online for people who do not have e- readers. Her website also features maps where participants can locate other participants across the globe. In this regard it stands to be more truly “social” than the previous club, so it makes sense that she’s doing more with social media.
The way she’s balancing traditional paper books with e-readers and mixing digital platforms with face-to-face contact among people in the real world is very much in keeping with the idea of “convergence theory” which suggests that new media do not overthrow and replace old ones, but operate in tandem with them. They shape one another. Oprah is using OBC 2.0 in a way that indicates how new and old media can and do exist synergistically.
When she moved away from her show toward her network, it seemed like she was rethinking the basic Harpo business model. And OBC 2.0 is a great way for her to indicate that she has a more holistic understanding of the way in which she interacts with her community than perhaps she was initially given credit for.
Rather than attracting a ton of broad attention — the kind that just translates into sky-high television ratings—she seems to be banking that it is a smarter long-term move to attract a kind highly involved and participatory attention. Clearly the numbers of participants for OBC 1.0 whose involvement might have been limited to buying the book and watching the show are not going to participate in OBC 2.0—those kinds of numbers are just not going to get deeply invested in what she’s doing here. So it’s going to be a smaller community, but it’s going to be a community that she will capture a larger share of the attention of and that she’s going to know a lot more about, all of which is valuable to the continuance of her project and to the advertisers who are going to support it. That’s the social media model — you don’t have to get everyone to watch you, provided you know extremely well who does watch you and what their habits are.
Oprah’s aspiration has always been to make this a book club, and in the beginning, back in 1996, that designation was kind of figurative. The idea was that she’d call it a book club and then maybe some actual book clubs in the actual world would read the books along with her — which they did. But instead of really being one big book club, it was a nexus of individual readers and book clubs that wanted to sail in Oprah’s armada. Now it stands to be more like an actual book club.
T.S. Poetry Press’s title, The Whipping Club, was featured as a Summer Beach Read in Oprah Magazine.