Nobody at Portland’s Powell’s Books knew on the morning of June 4th the bookseller was about to get a high-profile plug that would send traffic at its online store into a historic spike.

The scheme to send Stephen Colbert’s fans to an independent bookstore to pre-order a novel by a relative unknown was cooked up between “The Colbert Report” and Colbert’s publisher, Hachette Book Group, which is locked in an ebook pricing dispute with online retailer Amazon.

Powell’s only got a call from the show on Wednesday morning, said marketing director Kim Sutton. That left only a few hours to prepare before Colbert and author Sherman Alexie (also published by Hachette) urged viewers of “The Colbert Report” to pre-order “California,” a debut novel by Edan Lepucki, through

“I don’t think historically we’ve ever had one single moment in time when this many people have arrived at the site to shop,” said Sutton said. The company had its IT staff on hand to deal with the spike in traffic. Because the book won’t be released until July 8, Powell’s didn’t actually have to have the books in stock or prepare them to ship.

Powell’s isn’t releasing sales figures yet, but Sutton said she’s relayed the numbers to Colbert’s producers for an update on the June 5 show. The attention did shake up Powell’s bestsellers list, sending “California” to the top. A debut novel rarely even approaches bestseller status, Sutton said. Other books that now appear on the list include Colbert’s book “I Am a Pole (and So Can You!)” at No. 9 and Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” at No. 17.

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