E-book sales surge, but where's Oprah?

By Bob Minzesheimer

USA Today

Published: Saturday, Dec. 31 2011 3:00 p.m. MST

In a year when Borders went out of business and Oprah's Book Club disappeared, e-book sales surged and self-published authors got rich selling 99-cent digital books. But it also was a good year for an old print lion — Ernest Hemingway — and books about a famous 20th-century couple, Jack and Jackie. Here's a look back at the rapidly changing world of books in 2011.

E-surge continues

E-books now account for about 20 percent of the market — more than double a year ago. An even bigger surge is expected this week and next month, with people unwrapping their new e-readers and tablets. In the next few years, e-books are likely to match print sales and eventually overtake them. For readers, books have never been more accessible or plentiful. But no one is sure what it means for traditional publishers, authors and bookstores.

Who needs publishers?

Can you make a living writing and selling e-books for 99 cents? A handful of authors, rejected by traditional publishers, did just that and more. Fifteen self-published writers cracked the top 150 on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list, threatening publishers' traditional business model. Among them: Michael Prescott, who says he earned more than $300,000 before taxes this year by selling more than 800,000 digital copies of his self-published thrillers.

Jobs biography well-timed

Even before Apple co-founder Steve Jobs died Oct. 24 at age 56, Walter Isaacson's biography, "Steve Jobs," was destined to be a big book. The publisher moved up the bio's publication date, and it arrived in stores 19 days after Jobs died. The outpouring of tributes — unprecedented for a business leader — helped make the book a smash hit.

Hemingway also rises

Fifty years after his suicide (by shotgun), Ernest "Papa" Hemingway was all the rage thanks to a best-selling novel and a hit movie. "The Paris Wife," a novel by Paula McLain, revived interest in Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's spurned first wife. Director Woody Allen included a hilarious parody of Hemingway (portrayed by Corey Stoll) in the hit comedy "Midnight in Paris."

Oprah who?

For the first time since 1996, no Oprah Book Club selections made best-seller lists. That's because Winfrey, who gave up her syndicated talk show in May after 25 years, didn't make any televised reading recommendations. Last spring, without offering any details, she told USA TODAY, "I'm going to try to develop a show for books and authors" on her fledgling cable network, OWN. But that hasn't happened yet.

Bernie who?

Bernie Madoff's $18 billion Ponzi scheme was big news three years ago — but not so big in bookstores this year. Readers responded with indifference — or repulsion? — to "Truth and Consequences: Life Inside the Madoff Family," by Laurie Sandell. Despite a promotional "60 Minutes" interview with Madoff's wife, Ruth, and surviving son Andrew, the book peaked at No. 146 on USA TODAY's list.

Two other books fared a bit better but were hardly runaway hits. "The End of Normal," by Stephanie Madoff Mack, the widow of Mark Madoff, who committed suicide, reached No. 45. And Diana Henriques, who got the first interview with Madoff in jail, made it to No. 107 with "The Wizard of Lies" for one week before dropping off the list.

Kennedy mania

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