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Richard and Judy ride again

6 September 2010

Television Book Clubs are back in the news again with much talk about Oprah's new choice and the relaunch of the Richard and Judy Book club in the UK.

Richard and Judy presided over a real phenomenon, with the launch of their highly successful book club on Channel 4 in 2004. Over the last six years the titles in their club have sold in excess of 10 million copies and generated over £60 million (nearly $93m) in book sales, turning at least eight authors into multi-millionaires and throwing a welcome spotlight onto new writers.

After slipping from Channel 4 into a digital TV backwater, Richard & Judy's book club has now resurfaced as a website in association with WH Smith. They will review one book from their selection of eight every two weeks, with promotions across the 1000-odd WHS stores and online. The books are an interesting selection by relative unknowns and translations account for 25 per cent of their choices.

There's only one drawback, which is that the Richard and Judy Book Club continues today exclusively with W H Smith.

In the meantime the TV Book Club set up by Amanda Ross of Cactus (Richard and Judy's original producer) continues. Its viewers have voted The Legacy by Katherine Webb as their top summer read.

Webb said: 'As an unknown debut author, the TV Book Club has given me invaluable exposure to a wider audience, and I'm enormously grateful to have been selected. The success of the book has meant I've been able to give up my day job to concentrate on writing full time. This really is the fulfilment of a lifelong ambition for me.' The Legacy has sold more than 75,000 copies. These are not the heady numbers of the original Richard and Judy show, but at least the TV Book Club is publicising books and books by unknowns at that.

And what of Oprah? She's due to announce her next pick on 17 September and there's speculation that it will be Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Freedom. It would be an interesting turn-up for the books if she did, as in 2001, Franzen famously said that: "I considered turning it down" when he was offered a spot on Winfrey's show and was was then told that he would not be invited onto it. No-one knows what might happen this time around.

Whatever the ins and outs of all this, the big book clubs have succeeded in selling millions of books and should be welcomed by everyone connected to books. They have also cast a spotlight on new authors, helping many of the big names of today to launch their writing careers.

Richard and Judy's Book Club

Oprah's Book Club