That's what this article in The Herald claims. I disagree.
First of all, anything that gets people to read more is a good thing, IMHO. As much as I roll my eyes at the latest Oprah recommendation, it gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that some segment of her audience is actually taking the time to walk away from the television and (possibly) crack open a book. And before any Oprah fans complain about that comment, please see Exhibit A in the what-a-pile-of-crap-book-recommendation trial.
The real gist of the article is whether the big-time, mass appeal book groups are causing publishers to make stupid decisions for very limited PR opportunities. I think the answer is "possibly", but not if publishers consider the long tail effects of this area as well. For example, while getting Oprah or some other celebrity to hype your book will always drive more sales, how many thousands (millions?) of much smaller book groups have an overall impact on the business as well?
For example, I'm participating in my first book group. (It sounds funny just saying that...) It's a small group of people at Wiley, primarily in our San Francisco office, and we're reading Everything Is Miscellaneous, by David Weinberger. We communicate via a private blog and although it's still early in the process, I think it's going to be a fun experience.
My point? I think most publishers (and bookstores, for that matter) are better served by helping enable and facilitate book groups than they are trying to win the Oprah lottery. Rather than forcing these groups to set up their own Blogger site (or whatever tool they prefer), why not offer a book group hosting service for free as a way of building more community and drawing traffic to an uber book group portal, something that's very much affiliated with your existing site? Again, it doesn't just have to be limited to the publishers...I think a similar program by any of the bookstores would be viable as well.
Think of the benefits. First of all, your site offers to sell the entire group copies of the book, maybe at a "special" discount rate for group members. Second, because you're hosting the discussion, there are aspects that you could monetize further. Think Google AdSense, for example. You're also creating a wealth of great customer insight to the book. What you do with that would only be limited by the terms of your membership agreement.
I'd love to do something like this with my own business, but I'm not sure very many programmers would want to curl up with the latest WROX offering and read it together as a group!