In Which We Discover, Sadly, Everybody Seems to Win

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NEW YORK ( -- Looked at with a cold dispassionate eye, Oprah Winfrey’s takedown of fabricating author James Frey on her Jan. 26 talk show should have warranted, at most, a blip in the news last week. But that’s not, as we all know, what happened.

The talk-show host, who had chosen Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces” memoir for her influential Book Club and thus boosted him onto the bestseller list, apologized to viewers for recommending a book that the Smoking Gun Web site later proved had significant incidents that were largely made up. So just who comes out the big winner? It seems just about everybody.

Between the morning of Jan. 26, the day that Oprah dressed down Frey on her show, and the evening of Jan. 30, 167 references to the showdown appeared in major publications, as defined by the Factiva news-search tool. That includes front page articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Google’s Zeitgeist rated “James Frey” as No. 4 for the week ending Jan. 16 (above Martin Luther King). “Smoking Gun” was rated No. 9 for the week ending Jan. 9.

Internet searches for the term “james frey” skyrocketed 452% over the previous week for the week ending Jan. 14, when the Smoking Gun broke the story over the author’s falsehoods, according to Hitwise, an online market research firm that measures searches across all search engines. Searches for “a million little pieces” were up 293%.

The week the story broke, was the leading site receiving traffic from searches from the search term “a million little pieces,” followed by “Random House” -- the book’s publisher -- and Hits to book sites across the Internet using the author’s name or book title spiked during the week of Jan. 14.

“Whether the truth was embellished or not, people loved the book, and the controversy will only serve to sell more copies,” LeeAnn Prescott, Hitwise senior research analyst wrote on her blog accompanying these statistics.

The buzz over the James Frey controversy attracted traffic to both Oprah’s Web site and Visits to for the week ended Jan. 22 climbed to 1 million from 926,000 the previous week., which is owned by Court TV, experienced the second-highest number of page views it had received in its nine-year history. The Smoking Gun accounted for more than 70 million page views in January -- an increase of more than 50% over both January 2005 page views and average monthly page views for all of 2005, the site said.

"The Oprah Winfrey Show" for Jan. 26 won’t have official Nielsen ratings available until next week, but her average household rating in January was a 6.8, or about 8.8 million total viewers. Early read from some of the data available to Harpo Productions, producer of Oprah’s show, and its syndicator, King World, is that it will be the highest rated show for the week of Jan. 20 with an expected 7.4 household rating.

But that doesn’t take into account who watched it online. members had posted excerpts of Oprah frying Frey by Jan. 28, and in three days, those clips had already been viewed 18,547 times.

So how’s disgraced James Frey doing? As of Jan. 30, “A Million Little Pieces,” widely reported to have exceeded total sales of 3.5 million copies, was No. 5 on the book list. By Feb. 1, it had moved down to No. 6. (The only book in 2005 that outsold Frey’s tale was the magical and equally fantastic “Harry Potter.”)

For the week of Jan. 30, “A Million Little Pieces” was No. 1 on Publishers Weekly’s list of The Books Most Borrowed in U.S. Libraries: Nonfiction, its fourth week appearing on the list. And “My Friend Leonard,” Mr. Frey’s sequel, was still sitting at No. 3 on the Hardcover Nonfiction bestseller list. “A Million Little Pieces” was also still appearing as No. 2 on Publishers Weekly trade paperback bestseller list, having been in the No. 1 position for 17 weeks. And which book unseated it to grab the No. 1 slot? Oprah’s next Book Club pick, Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” also, not so coincidentally, the No. 1 best-seller on Amazon Feb. 1.

Contributing: Nat Ives, Abbey Klaassen and Kris Oser

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