Whether you're a religious watcher or avoid it like the plague, "The Oprah Winfrey Show" has become an American staple. The self-made billionaire who launched the show in 1986 has since beaten out her competition, done exuberant charity work around the world and has influenced pop culture in almost every way. As such, Oprah's wealth digs much deeper than her mere dollar value. In 2003, Oprah became the world's first female African-American billionaire (the second overall, following BET founder Bob Johnson).
With "The Oprah Winfrey Show's" 25-year run at an end, and the launch of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) last January, her public interest is currently at its high point. (Learn more in Measuring The "Oprah Effect".)
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The Hard Numbers
In its latest "Richest Celebrities" list, Forbes estimated that Oprah Winfrey was worth an incredible $2.7 billion. That may not exactly be "richest person in the world" criteria, but among celebrities, it places her in the lead, as she made $315 million last year. In contrast, Donald Trump only earned $60 million.
It does, naturally, also perch her on top of the richest celebrities over 50, followed by "Avatar" director James Cameron, "Pirates of the Caribbean" producer Jerry Bruckheimer and sci-fi popcorn film director Steven Spielberg. The combined worth of the three equal "only" $410 million - far short of Oprah's benchmark. (Find out what you need to know to plan for retirement, and which resources do the best job of showing the way. Check out 5 Resources To Learn To Retire Rich.)
Promotion is Fundamental
One of the staples of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" has been "Oprah's Book Club". The club has shed light on many smaller-name titles throughout its duration, and has driven numerous books to the top of best-sellers lists, locally and abroad.
Contemporary literature has been a hard-sell to many consumers. Author Dan Poynter, who specializes in teaching the art of self-publication, points out on Parapublishing.com that the popularity of novels has decreased rapidly and dramatically over the last few decades. It's estimated that 42% of college graduates never read another book after graduation, and that 70% of published books do not only fail to earn a profit, they also fail to earn back the advance paid to the author.
So it becomes even more impressive that a mention in Oprah's Book Club has sparked (or re-sparked) such interest in literature. Over the history of the club, 70 books have been tagged with the "Oprah's Pick" sticker. Of those, the top-selling publications include: "A New Earth" (2005), by Eckhart Tolle, which sold 3,370,000 copies to date; "A Million Little Pieces" (2003), by James Frey, which sold 2,695,500 copies, and "Night" (1960), by Elie Wiesel, which sold 2,021,000 copies.
It's estimated that the book club has been responsible for over 55 million copies of books being sold, and many of them have garnered enough attention to warrant movie adaptations, including Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" (2006) and Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader" (1997). Even American classics, like John Steinbeck's "East Of Eden" (1952) saw a resurgence to the top of book charts nationwide when it got the ever-valuable Oprah nod. (Kick back and learn something new! Check out 10 Books Worth Investing In.)
Oprah's Your Pusher
The influence of Oprah's praise stretches far beyond simply literature. Her "Oprah's Favorite Things" segment has skyrocketed many products into popular culture. A mere mention of endorsement can drive business into the mainstream for some, and flood the phones into obscurity for others. The annual "Oprah's Favorite Things" episode is her most-watched show of the year, as it nudges people towards new tech gadgets, music, foods and household items.
Greenberg Smoked Turkey, for example, saw a 22,000-customer increase for the two weeks following a mention that lasted under one minute on Oprah, according to MSNBC. That equaled an additional $1 million in sales for the small, family-run business.
Other small businesses were not prepared for the influx of sales associated with Oprah's approval. MSNBC reports that child-friendly TV remote, the "Weemote", saw a large spike in sales immediately following the Oprah mention. But by the time the home-operated business could strike a deal to have its product stocked on Target store shelves, the hype and excitement had died, leaving the company's owners with an abundance of product and little sales.
Shows Not Watched by Anyone's Dad
Even long after The Oprah Winfrey Show's departure, her influence will still be felt. Over the years, she has built and spun-off many subsidiary personalities to their own, extremely popular, shows, including "Nate Berkus" and "Oprah After The Show."
Atop that list is obviously the hard-nosed Southerner, Phil McGraw, whose advice and interview show "Dr. Phil" has become the right-hand to Oprah's daytime dominance. Though his overall ratings have been slowly slipping over the last four years, he has still been able to maintain a loyal and even cult-like viewership during the daytime hours. So much, in fact, that McGraw has begun creating his own spinoff shows ("The Doctors").
Another current TV host whose popularity was garnered on Oprah is cardiothoracic surgeon Mehmet Oz, host of "The Dr. Oz Show." Though the show has only been on the air for less than three years, it is already a favorite in the female demographic.
With the list of new shows that will appear on OWN, including those hosted by the Judds, Lisa Ling and Rosie O'Donnell, her influence in spinoffs will undoubtedly continue.
The Bottom Line
It's difficult to measure Oprah's financial worth simply by observing her bank account. From her priceless charity work in South Africa and the Gulf Coast, to her pop culture influence over literature, TV and consumerism, it's safe to say that her $2.7 billion price tag would be a low-ball number. (Becoming a millionaire is not as hard as you might think - it just takes time. See 6 Simple Steps To $1 Million.)
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