TV Host Puts Supply Chain to the Test
Book editors, publicists, and marketers sent a collective "thank you" to media queen Oprah Winfrey, when the Association of American Publishers presented her with its AAP Honors award.
The reason for the award: Oprah's Book Club, a wildly popular segment of The Oprah Winfrey Show. The segment routinely turned titles into bestsellers. But while publishers love the show's impact on revenues, dealing with massive, often unexpected surges in demand can vex even the most efficient supply chain.
The format of Oprah's Book Club was simple and effective. Winfrey chose a novel, then broadcast a reader discussion and author interview. The first book featured: The Deep End of the Ocean, by Jacquelyn Mitchard, published by Penguin Putnam's Viking imprint.
The book was already successful for a first novel, with 100,000 hardbacks in stores. But one month after its appearance on Oprah's Book Club, demand increased almost tenfold. Penguin Putnam suddenly needed to manufacture and ship 900,000 additional copies, and fast.
"Nobody knew how big the Oprah Book Club was going to be," says Pamela Dorman, VP and executive editor at Penguin Putnam Inc., in New York. "It was incredible."
The production team had to scramble to meet an avalanche of orders, says Roni Axelrod, then senior production manager at Penguin's Viking imprint, now director of production at HarperCollins Publishers, in New York. Reader interest could wane, and delays would mean lost sales.
Reprinting the book's text block was not a problem. But the jacket was another matter, Axelrod says. Intended to have a lush, tactile feel, the jacket was made of vellum paper, laminated on the inside, and printed with a water motif, using metallic inks.
That presented some technical challenges. "You have to test how the metallic ink looks on vellum paper," Axelrod says. "Then you have to print a photo in four colors, and make sure the photo is opaque enough. [So] you have to put down white ink. [Then] you have to make sure the bar code scans."