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March 21, 2014 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Killing Conservative Books: The Shocking End Of A Publishing Gold Rush A decade ago, mainstream publishers became convinced they could make millions by churning out books for the right — and now the bubble may be bursting. (SLBuzzFeed)
posted by MisantropicPainforest (101 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Say what you will about Closing of the American Mind, it's odd to see it positioned between a book by Scott Walker and Bill O'Reilly's Jesus book.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:32 AM on March 21 [12 favorites]


The casual Barnes & Noble browser is unlikely to have ever purchased one of these books — almost nobody does ...Inside, the books follow a well-worn formula, lacing lofty talking points and vaguely drawn policy proposals with a sanitized personal narrative that reads as though it has been vetted by a thousand political operatives and stripped down to a fourth-grade reading level.
This. Who buys the books ? Is it all the bogus best-seller PR firms doing the buying (and subsequent give-aways) ?

I've always wondered who buys the books, since the publishers are always giving away massive advances to the authors.
posted by k5.user at 8:32 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


Churches and PACs buy them by the palette to hand out.
posted by The Whelk at 8:33 AM on March 21 [24 favorites]


Now hang on, I've been told that the right wing just can't get its message out there because of the liberal media! Now you're trying to tell me that they have shelves and shelves of shouty books available in bookstores? What are you trying to pull here, sir, my leg?
posted by Legomancer at 8:37 AM on March 21 [53 favorites]


> I've always wondered who buys the books, since the publishers are always giving away massive advances to the authors.

Yeah, my operating theory before seeing this article was that campaigns paid to have those books put in stores as a way to add some kind of intellectual credibility to the candidate, knowing they would never really sell.

Anyway, hopefully we'll see a downturn in the market for some of these more aggressively idiotic conservative writers... Just seeing this drivel placed prominently in book stores causes my soul to die just a little bit.
posted by chasing at 8:38 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


A couple I know have lots of them. They also record and watch Fox News and right-wing shows. They're also active in Kiwanis, FWTW.
posted by The otter lady at 8:39 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


My local Goodwills are lousy with them. Some signed. Look mostly unread.
posted by tilde at 8:40 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


There are big displays of these books at the Park Slope B&N. I have no idea who buys them. I just picture an air raid siren going off, and then it's night and ash starts rising from the ground and that's when the Others buy the books.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:41 AM on March 21 [29 favorites]


Churches and PACs buy them by the palette to hand out.
That reminds me of the religious CDs that my grandfather sends me every few weeks. As far as I can tell, they consist of podcasts that I could download from iTunes for free, if I actually wanted to listen to them.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:44 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


What’s more, Pawlenty’s political action committee bought at least 5,000 of those copies itself in a failed attempt to get it on the New York Times best-seller list

I know this happens, but isn't it illegal? Isn't that money collected for a political organization going straight into Tim Pawlenty's pocket?
posted by eye of newt at 8:44 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


The obvious business model here is to charge the politicians/talking heads to publish their books, as opposed to of paying them six figure sums for the pleasure, since everyone on the Fox News circuit feels obliged to have one ghostwritten for the sake of "credibility." These are vanity publishing shops that don't seem to realize, or perhaps are incapable of admitting, what they are.
posted by Vulgar Euphemism at 8:44 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I worked at a bookstore in Paul Ryan's district. Lot's of people there bought these books. The whole thing fits in with the "conservatism as grift" theory.
posted by drezdn at 8:45 AM on March 21 [21 favorites]


Books by non-authors on their way to political office pitched to people who don't read. Yes, it's certainly surprising this model didn't work out.
posted by tommasz at 8:45 AM on March 21 [44 favorites]


I wonder how much this problem is just a subset of the decline of the book business in general. Every publishing niche can tell their own personal story about what went wrong and how it's getting too "crowded" but in the end people may just be reading less, right wing idiots the same as the rest of us.
posted by neat graffitist at 8:45 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


I had an AskMetafiler question about this from years ago after seeing shelves of these at my local Borders (ahh...remember Borders, everyone?!)

I was confused because my neighborhood is supremely liberal/progressive and it just didn't jive.

Now it all makes sense.
posted by glaucon at 8:46 AM on March 21


drezdn, thanks for that link -- I missed that article the first time around, and it looks well worth reading.
posted by scody at 8:47 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Most of you're pundit type books, right or left wing, have a short shelf life, I can tell you from experience.
posted by jonmc at 8:48 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


The NYT bestseller list asterisks books where they think funny business is going on in terms of sales.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:51 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


I always kind of imagined a lot of these books are the type people might buy and never read. They see old' Bill-O on the cover and think "YEAH, TELLUM BILL" and buy it and then remember they don't much care for reading.
posted by Hoopo at 8:53 AM on March 21 [16 favorites]


It seems to me that the article starts out talking about one kind of author - the conservative philosopher or academic- then says those people were crowded out by talking heads like O'Reilly and Coulter. Then it seems to completely change the subject and talk only about political candidates and their books. I'm not clear on what the point of it all is, particularly the "marginalized" bit. If the books are available in all the same places as other kinds of books (and I've seen several of them in places like BJ's), how are they marginalized?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:55 AM on March 21


The article really doesn't support the headline. They're not suggesting that sales have plummeted, just that there's a larger number of publishers competing for an audience that hasn't notably expanded and that with imprints branding themselves as outlets for conservative voices the books conservative writers are publishing are somewhat less likely to enter the broader cultural conversation. Those are interesting trends, no doubt, but it's hardly "The Shocking End" of anything at all.
posted by yoink at 8:55 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


There seems to be this right-wing circle of life that goes something like: Write a crappy book -> Run for office -> Lose -> Get a gig on Fox -> Go on speaking tours -> Write another crappy book -> repeat cycle.

People like Newt and Palin have been working that scheme for years and doing pretty well with it. Losing the big money from books will hurt them but they'll just find a new grift and keep going.
posted by octothorpe at 9:01 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I've always wondered who buys the books, since the publishers are always giving away massive advances to the authors.

Sometimes they are purchased as "gifts" in an effort to convert someone to a certain Point Of View. I worked for a guy for about 6 years when I was in my 20's - an entrepreneur who started and ran a lot of businesses, and I was his assistant who followed him around. Lots of times, though, there wasn't much going on in any of these cases, so we spent a lot of time having lively-but-friendly political and social debates.

One year, at Christmas, he presented me with Lynne Cheney's Telling The Truth, and William Bennett's Book of Virtues. He teased me a bit, as he did, saying that maybe my opinions would be swayed after reading them. I smiled and said thank you, and then on my way home bought my own copies of Lies My Teacher Told Me and The Book Of Vices and I display all four on my bookshelves as a matched set.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:03 AM on March 21 [6 favorites]


Churches and PACs buy them by the palette to hand out.

It's the way corrupt politicians of all makes and models receive bribes. It might cost 50 bucks to put 2 bucks in Bill Clinton's pocket (or his wife) as perfectly legal "book royalties" and still be worth it. No one actually reada this stuff.
posted by three blind mice at 9:12 AM on March 21


> What’s more, Pawlenty’s political action committee bought at least 5,000 of those copies itself in a failed attempt to get it on the New York Times best-seller list

> > I know this happens, but isn't it illegal?

It's a regular weekly thing. Anyone can contract with ResultSource to buy a spot on the NYT bestseller list. See ResultSource and NYT Bestseller Wikipedia (criticisms and controversies section)

> The NYT bestseller list asterisks books where they think funny business is going on in terms of sales.

..but that is gamed also, there are cases of list manipulation that didn't have the dagger mark.
posted by stbalbach at 9:17 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I wonder how much this problem is just a subset of the decline of the book business in general.

Yeah, as much as I'd like to do a Snoopy-dance of schadenfreude on the grave of right-wing pundit publishing, this is the story of what's happening all over publishing: editors chasing the next blockbuster while the midlist withers.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:28 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]


The part of the population that buys these books is relatively small. However, the people who do buy these books, buy a lot of these books.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:38 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


"the conservative literati"
Wait a minute... I thought William F. Buckley was dead?!
posted by Flunkie at 9:42 AM on March 21 [9 favorites]


I've always wondered who buys the books

It's like the stock christmas gift for my conservative uncle. He gets one of them every year from his kids. They're sitting all over his house, on nightstands, coffee tables, kitchen counters, a small stack next to the crapper, all bookmarked about 8 or 9 pages in. He's clearly not reading them, but he just always seems to have them.
posted by phunniemee at 9:44 AM on March 21


> > I know this happens, but isn't it illegal?

It's a regular weekly thing. Anyone can contract with ResultSource to buy a spot on the NYT bestseller list. See ResultSource and NYT Bestseller Wikipedia (criticisms and controversies section)


I think the real question eye of newt was asking is how it's not illegal for a PAC to accept political contributions and then spend that on something from which a candidate is directly profiting.

It sure seems shady to me.
posted by Ickster at 9:51 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


(drezdn's linked article is great. Read it and the next time you see Newt Gingrich you'll go "Ah, I understand what he's doing now!".
posted by benito.strauss at 9:53 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


5,000 is at least an order of magnitude less than what I would have estimated for the NYT bestseller list cutoff. Maybe I'm thinking of the wrong category.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:53 AM on March 21


Aww, shit. For years I have delighted in walking through random airport bookstores and Barnes and Nobles (the seven that remain) systematically turning over books by Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter and their ilk. I am apparently not the only one, either. I've come across rows of such books already reverse-faced by someone.

I feel it is the only way I can respond to the way they are always shouting, even from their book covers.
posted by spitbull at 10:03 AM on March 21 [4 favorites]


I thought William F. Buckley was dead?!

He reproduced.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:11 AM on March 21


> Who buys the books ? Is it all the bogus best-seller PR firms doing the buying (and subsequent give-aways) ?

I've seen people buy them in bookstores, but not with any real avidity, even in conservative towns.

But I tell you what, though... There are stacks of them in Sam's Club and Wal-Mart and Costo and they fly off the damn tables there.
posted by ardgedee at 10:11 AM on March 21


I did actually see someone reading Killing Kennedy on the Boston subway.
posted by peacheater at 10:15 AM on March 21


I can't help but think that there's a parallel or a metaphor in all of this.

A right-wing, take no hand-outs, poor-people are poor because they deserve to be, kind of person, gets an ENORMOUS advance from a publisher, and then proceeds to have a ghost-written, door-stop produced, which doesn't sell enough to recover the cost of the printing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:15 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


I think the real question eye of newt was asking is how it's not illegal for a PAC to accept political contributions and then spend that on something from which a candidate is directly profiting.

It sure seems shady to me.


I doubt many of the books recouped the advance payed to the politician so there wouldn't be any royalty payments to the candidate based on those sales.
posted by MikeMc at 10:15 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


don't worry they can still bribe politicians with under the table promises of 6 figure speaking fees at their corporate retreat when they leave office.
posted by any major dude at 10:16 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Ruthless Bunny: "A right-wing, take no hand-outs, poor-people are poor because they deserve to be, kind of person, gets an ENORMOUS advance from a publisher, and then proceeds to have a ghost-written, door-stop produced, which doesn't sell enough to recover the cost of the printing."

It's called wingnut welfare, and contra Buzzfeed, it's alive and well. Just because nobody's buying these books doesn't mean the gravy train is going to end, especially with a cadre of billionaires happy to eat the losses.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:17 AM on March 21 [10 favorites]


I can't remember if it was Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert that had Bill O'Reilly on as an author/guest - then held up a copy of his book for the whole interview, complete with a 20% off B&N sticker on it.
posted by R. Mutt at 10:23 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


> I know this happens, but isn't it illegal? Isn't that money collected for a political organization going straight into Tim Pawlenty's pocket?

This may or may not be illegal for a number of reasons, but if Pawlenty really got a $340,000 advance, and it sold so poorly, it's quite likely that he saw no royalties from the sales of those 5,000 copies.

An advance is not just a signing bonus; it's an actual advance on royalties that may or may not be earned from book sales. It's the publisher's guarantee that the author will make at least $X on the deal. Pawlenty would only see more money if the book sold well enough that he was owed more than $340,000 in royalties.

(If anyone knows differently, please say so, but this was my experience as the author of a technical book a few years back — a book that, I am pleased to learn, may have outsold Jeb Bush's.)
posted by savetheclocktower at 10:25 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


R. Mutt: "I can't remember if it was Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert that had Bill O'Reilly on as an author/guest - then held up a copy of his book for the whole interview, complete with a 20% off B&N sticker on it."

Because god knows booksellers don't want to be caught giving discounts?
posted by chavenet at 10:48 AM on March 21


But I tell you what, though... There are stacks of them in Sam's Club and Wal-Mart and Costo and they fly off the damn tables there.

And these, by the way, are the very kinds of stores that do not report book sales to the NY Times. It has also long been argued in publishing that the "big box" stores that do report to the Times are disproportionately underweighted in the Times algorithm.

My political beliefs lean pretty far left, but I think the caricature of the right as being anti-intellectual is lazy. The people who watch Fox feel that something is *wrong* with the world today, and they're worried about it and want to figure out what it is. I think those people buy these books in a kind of self-improvement-minded desire to educate themselves. As to whether they actually get read, well I expect that happens to about the same extent than any kind of self-improvement book gets read.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 10:50 AM on March 21 [13 favorites]


This article is incomplete without mention of former House speaker Jim Wright's book Reflections of a Public Man. As became apparent during ethics investigations, the book was published solely to be purchased in bulk to funnel money to Wright. No public sales were ever really intended. I believe it has since become something of a collector's item.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 10:53 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


chavenet: "Because god knows booksellers don't want to be caught giving discounts?"

There is this concept known as a "joke."
posted by Chrysostom at 10:54 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


for what it's worth, from my time working in a public library, the conservative pundit books were easily the most oft-checked out. it wasn't even close.
posted by oog at 10:57 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


spitbull: "Aww, shit. For years I have delighted in walking through random airport bookstores and Barnes and Nobles (the seven that remain) systematically turning over books by Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter and their ilk. I am apparently not the only one, either. I've come across rows of such books already reverse-faced by someone. "

Speaking as someone who spent a few years working the sales floor of a major chain bookstore, and who had to spend hours every day straightening and reshelving books that our customers would leave in thoughtless disarray, I think I might hate you.

Take it from a former bookseller, kids: Flipping over political books at stores accomplishes nothing for your philosophical cause, and makes more hassle for the people who work there.
posted by Strange Interlude at 10:58 AM on March 21 [32 favorites]


. . . I think the caricature of the right as being anti-intellectual is lazy. The people who watch Fox feel that something is *wrong* with the world today, and they're worried about it and want to figure out what it is. I think those people buy these books in a kind of self-improvement-minded desire to educate themselves

No, by definition, conservatives are people who want to keep things as they are, or at least as they imagine things to be. While it's true that they feel there's something wrong with the world today, they identify that *thing* as the fact that not everyone is like them--society is changing, problems are being identified which require change, standards of acceptable behavior change (both in positive and negative ways, meaning things that are now allowed and things that aren't, e.g., homosexuality and faggot jokes, respectively).

What they're looking for isn't self-improvement; they're looking for a something that tells them that they're just fine the way they are and there's nothing *they* need to change, while demonizing all of the things they fear.

It is 100% anti-intellectual.
posted by Ickster at 11:00 AM on March 21 [13 favorites]


I had a coworker who left a copy of The Conscience of a Libertarian in the bathroom at work -- probably not an intentional attempt to convert the rest of us.

I started to thumb through it. I lasted about 20 seconds before the hypocrisy was too much.

I can't even imagine how terrible an Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh book must be.
posted by Foosnark at 11:00 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I can't remember if it was Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert that had Bill O'Reilly on as an author/guest - then held up a copy of his book for the whole interview, complete with a 20% off B&N sticker on it.

There is no greater example of what a farce our political system has become than when Stewart and Colbert invite O'Reilly onto their respective shows. He is invariably treated with a begrudging reverence and why not? O'Reilly provide them with non-stop punchlines and they provide him with non-stop promotion. It's a symbiotic relationship in which they all win and we lose. I liked that show a lot better when the studio audience actually had a conscience.
posted by any major dude at 11:06 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


Ickster: "No, by definition, conservatives are people who want to keep things as they are, or at least as they imagine things to be."

True, which is why many "conservatives" are, in fact, reactionaries. They seek not to keep things as they are, but to roll them back to some imagined past.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:11 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]


I had a coworker who left a copy of The Conscience of a Libertarian in the bathroom at work...

Did it float?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:12 AM on March 21 [20 favorites]


I think the caricature of the right as being anti-intellectual is lazy

My stepfather is a smart guy and is conservative. I just find, with politics and economics in particular, he has a number of things he holds as truth that he's simply not willing to challenge. It's odd. He'll tell me how he's conservative and he voted for Harper because they're not corrupt like the Liberals and better with managing the economy. I'll then bring up the continued deficits, lack of oversight and various spending scandals/wrongdoing the Conservatives have been caught in, and he'll relay to me how back when he was a bank manager and approving loans, how sometimes Joe-bigshot-conservative-politician would come in looking for a loan, and he wouldn't be able to do it because their credit and finances were always total disasters (he also said they still did get their loans because of friends higher up, but yeah, that was the olden days). So anyways, affter all this I say, "OK but then why do you support these guys and think they are good with money?". He says "I'm conservative."

I don't want to say it's anti-intellectual. but it's not intellectual.
posted by Hoopo at 11:14 AM on March 21 [11 favorites]


He reproduced.
Christopher Buckley's books are mostly satire, and judging by Boomsday, enjoyable to read even when you disagree with the man. They're not terribly conservative, and given that he's been booted from NR, I think that most people who by conservative books would think him a RINO.

(Boomsday was an excellent book to make a plane ride decent. I cannot speak to it as a book to read while on the couch, etc. For a book that I realized after the fact contained a bit of a hit piece on Social Security, it was good fun.)
posted by Hactar at 11:20 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


through random airport bookstores

Prior to the iPad, I found myself traveling throughout Southeast Asia with nothing to read aside from worn, sun-bleached bartered books from seaside shops. I always took the opportunity to gawk at whatever books were for sale at the airports or tourist-area malls. In Bali, in particular, I was both surprised and utterly disappointed to find nothing but stuff from the aforementioned US of American conservative operators and religious apparatchicks.

It left me with a lasting, bad impression of the Australian intellect.
posted by jsavimbi at 11:37 AM on March 21


a model that consigned their work to a niche, same as science fiction or nutritional self-help guides.

To be fair, their books often vaguely describe a dystopian world dimly reminiscent of our own and have a thinly-disguised fear of aliens. They also are usually feeling you something.

(Why does the Firefox spellchecker want to replace "dystopian" with "pianist?")
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:38 AM on March 21


>> I had a coworker who left a copy of The Conscience of a Libertarian in the bathroom at work...

> Did it float?


Don't do that. It's an emergency wipe.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:39 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


My favorite when I worked at Borders (RIP) was one of these guys apparently told his acolytes that the LIBERAL BOOKSTORE WORKERS ARE HIDING THE VOLUMES OF TRUTH so we had this customer come marching in with a full head of ANGRY CONSERVATIVE steam and demand that we dig all the VOLUMES OF TRUTHBOMBS US LIBERALS COULDN'T HANDLE out of hiding. I can't tell you the sheer delight I took leading him back to Political Science and making sure to point out the shelf upon shelf upon SHELF of right wing talking points books, one at a time, as if he was a particularly stupid child that needed help finding the three entire cases of Bill O'Reilly books beneath the enormous overhead backstock racks of Bill O'Reilly books and also alongside enormous floor piles of Bill O'Reilly books.

We had an occasionally-enforced policy that you were supposed to put the book they wanted in their hand so I made a point of taking off a single copy of every one of this particular author's books and shoving it into dude's hands until he looked like a fourth grader lugging all his books from class to class. I was maybe the most helpful I have ever been in my entire life. When he finally grumbled his thanks, you could hear his wife say, as I walked back to the desk, "Boy, he sure made you look like an ass."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:50 AM on March 21 [108 favorites]


There's a close-out chain in Pennsylvania called Ollie's. Last time I was in one their book section was overflowing with this stuff.
posted by lagomorphius at 11:51 AM on March 21


I know lots of very conservative people who read a lot, but I would not call them intellectuals. Reading is great, but it is not inherently intellectual. My church, like many, has a library, and the library gets a small annual budget. So far as I know, almost nobody even ever walks into it. The ladies who have been in charge of the purchasing, over the years, have not exactly been the most liberal people in my generally-liberal church. And so it's full of the sort of books they liked--fake-Amish or fake-historical romance novels stripped of any hint of sex, Left Behind books, that sort of thing. Nothing overtly political there, but I know many of them at home own these sorts of books, too. The older crowd who were not raised on eight hours of TV a day still read. But, year by year, fewer of them.

And, in the meantime, I think the conservative-acceptable fiction has cannibalized a lot of this market, because there's less and less the talking heads can say that's nearly as comforting as fiction. The politicians can tell you that traditional values will always prevail, but it's only true in novels.
posted by Sequence at 11:55 AM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I published a book with a liberal press during the height of the anti-Bush book bubble. I can't imagine that one is going much better. It was was a time. Books flew off the Borders shelves about how the presidency was just like Emperor Nero's; about how we must reclaim the legacy of the Founding Fathers from the clutches of right-wing Republicans and see it embodied in the proud patriotism of John Kerry; about how science is proving every day that conservatives are mentally impaired.

The publishing house I signed on with imploded after Obama took office, after mimicking the tactics of the right-wing Regnery Press and other conservative book factories by issuing one last volume observing that our Republican opponents bore an uncanny resemblance to America's evil insurgent enemies in Afghanistan. The founding funder then closed up shop and returned to operating a famous for-profit university.
posted by steinsaltz at 11:55 AM on March 21 [5 favorites]


spitbull: "Aww, shit. For years I have delighted in walking through random airport bookstores and Barnes and Nobles (the seven that remain) systematically turning over books by Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter and their ilk."

I got caught doing this in Costco by a gentleman much older than I.
A stern look was given by he, but no f__ks were given by me.
posted by Big_B at 12:10 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


“It’s become a kind of blood sport and the most ruthless gladiator comes out on top.”

Was that noise a petard going off?
posted by skyscraper at 12:10 PM on March 21


I took leading him back to Political Science

[emphasis added]

GRARRRRRRRGGGGGG!!!!!!!

Sorry, as an incoming Political Science student this makes me angry.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:11 PM on March 21


I wonder how much this problem is just a subset of the decline of the book business in general. Every publishing niche can tell their own personal story about what went wrong and how it's getting too "crowded" but in the end people may just be reading less, right wing idiots the same as the rest of us.

Pretty much, but I really don't care what side of the political spectrum people to pretend to believe in their never-ending attempt to rouse their apathetic parents, the books all read the same. All identical, by-the-numbers drivel that holds people's hand and reassures them their nincompoopity is not their fault, but of some group of people who think differently than they do. The same examples, the same quotes, the same phrases.

There is a fatigue among readers because it is the same old tired message that is flawed and the passage of time shows the arguments to be wanting and hollow and then publishers must scramble to find a new formula that works, although they are always slow in doing so...but sometimes they accidentally publish something genuinely innovative and promising and the industry experiences a revival until that poor idea gets used to death...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 12:25 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


No mention of the Closing of the American Mind is complete without a link to the review by Robert Paul Wolff, originally published in Academe:
Afficionados of the modern American novel have learned to look to Philip Roth for complex literary constructions that play wittily with narrative voice and frame. One thinks of such Roth works as My Life as a Man and The Counter Life. Now Saul Bellow has demonstrated that among his other well-recognized literary gifts is an unsuspected bent for daring satire. What Bellow has done, quite simply, is to write an entire corruscatingly funny novel in the form of a pettish, bookish, grumpy, reactionary complaint against the last two decades. The "author" of this tirade, one of Bellow's most fully realized literary creations, is a mid- fiftyish professor at the University of Chicago, to whom Bellow gives the evocative name, "Bloom." Bellow appears in the book only as the author of an eight-page "Foreword," in which he introduces us to his principal and only character. The book is published under the name "Allan Bloom," and, as part of the fun, is even copyrighted in "Bloom's" name.
posted by jokeefe at 12:28 PM on March 21 [21 favorites]


Ah, Regnery Publishing. When I worked at a bookstore, the staff had access to a distributor-supplied database which allowed us to see the details of not-yet-published books (title, author, publisher, etc.) Occasionally, if the title for an upcoming release had yet to be decided upon, there would be a placeholder title, something like "NEXT BOOK IN SUE GRAFTON ALPHABET SERIES" or "NEW COLLECTION OF GORE VIDAL ESSAYS".

I still remember one occasion—it would have been sometime right before the 2004 Democratic primaries went into full swing—when I was browsing through the Regnery Press catalog and came across an item with the placeholder title "ATTACK BOOK ON 2004 DEMOCRAT CANDIDATE". The book was eventually released as Unfit for Command, the John Kerry swiftboat smear job by John O'Neill and Jerome Corsi. I assume there's a locked drawer somewhere at the Regnery offices containing unpublished attack-jobs on Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, and John Edwards. (But probably not Kucinich.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:46 PM on March 21 [29 favorites]


I hope this gaming the stats strategy keeps losing legitimacy by any means possible. I was encouraged to see this story earlier this week about Mark Driscoll, pastor of the Mars Hill megachurch, repenting for using it:

Driscoll, writing last weekend, acknowledged hiring a firm called RealSource Inc., which had Mars Hill buy up copies of his book “Real Marriage” — elaborately disguising the purchases — in order to garner a place on The New York Times bestseller list.

“I am sorry I used this strategy and will never use it again,” Driscoll wrote. Harper Collins, Driscoll’s publisher, has also sourced and footnoted book passages after Driscoll was hit with allegations of plagiarism.

posted by sapere aude at 1:06 PM on March 21


As other a few others have mentioned, the article is not about lowered demand, it is about excess supply. By all means though, continue to interpret the article wherever your intentions lead.

On a relative basis...
posted by otto42 at 1:07 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


No public sales were ever really intended. I believe it has since become something of a collector's item.

What would the text of such a book, one intended never to be read, be like? I'm imagining the literary equivalent of The Room.

As other a few others have mentioned, the article is not about lowered demand, it is about excess supply.

They're really the same thing, aren't they?

At our local Books-A-Million they've had Rush Limbaugh's book "Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans," which from the title I can only imagine to be self-insert fan-fiction in times and places with a suitcase full of Viagra.
posted by JHarris at 1:45 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


Er, they had it on a display by the door for weeks apparently unbought, that comment should have concluded. When I got to writing suitcase full of Viagra though apparently I blacked out.
posted by JHarris at 1:48 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


That's just the Oxycontin kicking in, JHarris.
posted by Strange Interlude at 1:52 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


I don't take any delight in the death of a disruptive, hateful public figure who makes it their stock in trade to make other people miserable, because I'm one of those touchy-feely secular humanists they keep warning the world about, but when it comes to the business ventures of disruptive, hateful public figures who make it their stock in trade to make other people miserable, I say DIE DIE DIE, YE OLDE INDUSTRY OF REPUGNANCE AND PUTREFACTION!
posted by sonascope at 2:04 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


"for what it's worth, from my time working in a public library, the conservative pundit books were easily the most oft-checked out. it wasn't even close.
posted by oog at 10:57 AM on March 21 [+] [!] "


That would probably be people like me, who refuse to pay money to research the talking points of the right wing punditry, so as to better arm myself with understanding of the received wisdom/knowledge and to be able to trace the lineage of any particular strain of ignorance I happen across in my quest to be able to argue more effectively against the politics of hate and selfishness.

I also check out a lot of New Age books as well, because I am fascinated by the things that people try to push of as "truth" on people who are seeking "truth" but are sold pablum and lies.
posted by daq at 2:18 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


Ah, Regnery Publishing.

I read that as Regretsy Publishing. I imagine that wouldn't have been much different.
posted by Foosnark at 2:20 PM on March 21 [3 favorites]


That would probably be people like me, who refuse to pay money to research the talking points of the right wing punditry

This was my suspicion as well. When this sort of book used to come out, I used to see it picked apart chapter by chapter on left-wing blogs, while I didn't really get the impression the right wing blogs were actually reading the books so much as quibbling with lefty bloggers reactions to them in general terms.
posted by Hoopo at 3:13 PM on March 21


Rubio's $800,000 advance / 36,000 "respectable" copies sold = $22.22 per copy - that is without production, marketing & distribution charges. And I have heard that bookstores are about 50% of the cover price.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:29 PM on March 21


Does anyone still pay attention to the label "New York Times Bestseller"? Judging from the huge numbers of totally awful books that have "earned" the "distinction," it seems equivalent to having a big splash on the cover that says "BOOK." Why do publishers still play games to try and get on that list?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:42 PM on March 21


Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans

I just had to google that because i thought you were making it up
posted by Dr. Twist at 5:03 PM on March 21 [4 favorites]


One year, at Christmas, he presented me with Lynne Cheney's Telling The Truth, and William Bennett's Book of Virtues.

Bennett and his book particularly irritated me because it was basically a compendium of feel good classics composed by others that he had an assistant compile before he put his own (highly marketable) name on the cover.

A more charitable person than I would call this ironic.

On the other hand, I don't much respect, say, Hillary Clinton's accepting eight million for her memoir, even if it did eventually earn out. Advances have traditionally been there to help struggling writers finance the cost of writing a book, not for hiring a ghost to do the heavy lifting why you do something else. For a sitting senator to take one of that size (even if ti did earn out) smacks of bribery (Simon and Schuster was then owned by Viacom).
posted by IndigoJones at 5:26 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


> Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans
I just had to google that because i thought you were making it up


How I wish that I was. That boookstore tends to get all the most wacko right-wing books and puts them prominently on tables along the center aisle. Glenn Beck's children's books (ugh that makes me want to vomit), Bill O'Reilly's books on killing Lincoln and Jesus, Ann Coulter's (Word)less series on everything wrong with liberals, we get them all.

Almost as offensive, though, are the mugs they sell that read "The [Democratic|Republican] Dream," with a picture of a map of the country all colored blue or red, respectively. It feels trivializing, like political parties are sports teams, and being basically sane is the same thing as being ridiculously hidebound and willing to vote the nation into desperate straits due to one's personal biases. Six of one half doz of the other amirite??? Those mugs, I notice, are sold right beside the ones shaped like a toilet.
posted by JHarris at 6:39 PM on March 21 [2 favorites]


On the other hand, I don't much respect, say, Hillary Clinton's accepting eight million for her memoir, even if it did eventually earn out.

IIRC, the Clintons were left with large legal bills resulting from the several attempts by the GOP to indict and convict them on something. Unless she didn't recuse herself on a relevant vote while she was in the Senate, I don't see a problem.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:07 PM on March 21


Unless she didn't recuse herself on a relevant vote while she was in the Senate, I don't see a problem.

You will forgive me, but that sounds more than a little naive. The fact that you and presumably many others don't see a problem is large part of the problem.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:55 PM on March 21


Wait a minute... I thought William F. Buckley was dead?!

Wouldn't he be considered a high brow socialist by the current conservative insane branch now anyway?
posted by juiceCake at 8:46 PM on March 21


Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans
I just had to google that because i thought you were making it up


From the top 5-star review, in brief:

1. The basic premise of the story is that "Rush Revere"
2. is a substitute history teacher
3. who has a talking horse "Liberty" (a very amusing character!).
4. Rush and Liberty travel back into time
5. use a Smartphone to capture live videos of historical events as they happen
6. which they show their students as they happen.

Drugs may have been involved.

Oh, and currently ranked #9 at Amazon.
posted by JackFlash at 9:31 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


whether or not it's dying, or if it's just books dying, or if it's actually kiwanis club members dying and not buying, thanks for this article. reading the pompous names along with the numbers gave me a good ol' belly laugh. i mean, i always figured it was like this... but christ, candidates get paid for this? where does that sit in on campaign law?! however, "liberal" candidates do the same nonsense, yes? i just sort of assume...

it honestly leaves me inspired to pick the next one up I see on sale and have a read.

heck, does anyone collect these? my great-uncle used to collect campaign buttons..... but i do suppose books are larger and more expensive.
posted by RTQP at 10:39 PM on March 21


My local Goodwills are lousy with them.

Yep.
posted by jamaro at 12:28 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


> And these, by the way, are the very kinds of stores that do not report book sales to the NY Times. It has also long been argued in publishing that the "big box" stores that do report to the Times are disproportionately underweighted in the Times algorithm.

Right, but if the books are selling copies by the tens or even hundreds of thousands, below the notice of the best seller lists, they're still profitable (or coming closer to profit) for the publishers, this is a revenue stream they're going to continue drinking from.
posted by ardgedee at 8:09 AM on March 22


I love that jamaro's photo shows Sarah Palin's book shelved right next to O.J.'s. Two great self-serving liars that go great together!
posted by scody at 9:22 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


You will forgive me, but that sounds more than a little naive. The fact that you and presumably many others don't see a problem is large part of the problem.

If you see advances as a way to pay struggling writers, as you suggest, then it's a problem that celebrities of all sorts -- including nationally known politicians -- receive huge advances. But the use of advances to pay big fees to famous people or well-established authors, many of whose works employ ghost writers, is not at all particular to the publication of political books. It's the norm in publishing and has been for decades.

I don't like it either, for what it's worth, but the general undervaluing of creative or research work by unknowns in all forms of publishing (print, music, etc.) has been going on for a long time. All of these fields' commercial incarnations rely on branding more than on an assessment of the merits, and few of them will pass up the chance to do something analogous to paying a large license fee for a popular brand.

Publishers don't want to pay much in the way of production, editorial, and promotional expenses for something that won't sell above the midlist, especially now that "midlist" amounts to rather small numbers of units sold. The interesting thing here is not that pundits and polticos get paid big bucks for their bylines, but rather that an expensive name on the cover in the pundit-book niche market no longer gets the same sorts of market results.
posted by kewb at 9:47 AM on March 22


The purpose of a publishing advance is the same as the purpose of a signing bonus - to convince the person on the other side of the contract to sign.

If the author in question is starving, then the advance may allow them to more easily feed themselves and focus more effort on writing the book. If the author is more economically secure, the advance is a way to encourage them to sign your contract rather than someone else's. Rich people receiving massive advances while poor people receive tiny advances makes perfect economic sense.

If the purpose of publishing advances was to help out economically disadvantaged writers, then publishers would have a very easy time receiving tax-exempt 501(c)3 status from the IRS.

That having been said, yeah a $8 million advance to a sitting senator sure does look unethical for both involved parties.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:12 AM on March 22 [2 favorites]


Saw Mike Huckabee's book Do The Right Thing (why is it named after a Spike Lee Joint?) for sale at Dollar Tree for $1 today. Photo
posted by larrybob at 11:12 AM on March 22 [1 favorite]


That having been said, yeah a $8 million advance to a sitting senator sure does look unethical for both involved parties.

Technically, she was not a sitting senator. She was senator-elect in December prior to taking office in January.
posted by JackFlash at 1:07 PM on March 22


Technically, she was not a sitting senator.

And that makes it better how?
posted by IndigoJones at 2:48 PM on March 22


Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures With Exceptional Americans

The Colbert Report: Rush Limbaugh shares his version of the Thanksgiving story in "Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims," and Callista Gingrich teaches kids that all elephants are created equal.
posted by homunculus at 10:11 PM on March 22 [1 favorite]


Bennett and his book particularly irritated me because it was basically a compendium of feel good classics composed by others that he had an assistant compile before he put his own (highly marketable) name on the cover.

God, really? What a tool.
posted by JHarris at 2:23 PM on March 23


(I mean, Bennett, not the assistant.)
posted by JHarris at 2:24 PM on March 23


There's also a kid's book version, The Children's Book of Virtues. Great review on Goodreads starting with "A friend gave me this book. I am considering no longer being friends with this person." He also notes "p.s.: it pisses me off that Bennett transformed St. George, a SYRIAN, into some British Lancelot-like dude with blond hair."
posted by larrybob at 6:01 PM on March 23 [3 favorites]


The Rush Limbaugh Children’s-Book Soundboard
posted by homunculus at 10:23 AM on April 6 [2 favorites]


That Goodreads review has a response that ends with "If you can't be self-reliant, as the book suggests, nature says you will die." Libertarians really don't understand anything, do they?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:19 AM on April 6 [1 favorite]


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