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Tilting at Windmills

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December 28, 2010

A PUBLISHING MYSTERY.... I don't mind admitting when I'm wrong. Last year, for example, I predicted that George W. Bush's post-presidency memoir would be a flop. Just the opposite is true -- "Decision Points" has sat atop the Times Best Sellers list for the last six weeks, and yesterday, the publisher boasted that the book has sold more than 2 million copies.

That's pretty impressive, and far ahead of what I could have predicted. The next question, though, is how on earth sales have been this good. Or put another way, who's actually buying the poorly-reviewed book of a failed former president?

Alex Pareene explores the subject today, floating a variety of possibilities. Maybe it's a popular "gag gift" for the holidays; maybe there's some lingering "Bush nostalgia" in some misguided Republican circles; maybe the publisher is blatantly lying and the book hasn't actually sold nearly that many copies. But of all the possibilities, this one strikes me as the most plausible.

Conservative book clubs

The sales of books by awful right-wing authors like Jonah Goldberg are boosted by an entire industry dedicated to ... boosting the sales of books by awful right-wing authors. Conservative book clubs purchase tens of thousands of copies and right-wing think tanks order right-wing books in bulk. There's probably a bit more genuine demand for George W. Bush's wisdom than, say, Laura Ingraham's wit, but every little bit helps.

This is a long-running phenomenon -- conservative books nearly always outsell liberal books in large part because of bulk orders. A couple of months ago, for example, Mitt Romney boosted sales of his book by requiring various schools, think tanks, and institutions to buy thousands of copies in exchange for his speeches. Various conferences and Republican outlets do this all the time.

Without access to the data, it's impossible to say just how much of this may have inflated "Decision Points" sales, but it seems like the most credible explanation. How else could it have sold so many copies?

If there are better explanations, I'm open to suggestion.

Steve Benen 12:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (52)

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Comments

George W. Bush - great author, or the GREATEST author!

Posted by: Comon Knowledge on December 28, 2010 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe many people could not afford firewood or heating oil.

Posted by: Tigershark on December 28, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Welcome to our new dumbed down world. By the way, Glenn Beck makes Jonah Goldberg look like Shakespeare and Beck has also had bestsellers.

Posted by: max on December 28, 2010 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it is progressives like me who like to have, in writing, the admission of crimes against humanity by Georgie!

Too bad The Obomination will not let his DOJ do its required (by treaty) international obligation of investigating these crimes.

Posted by: SadOldVet on December 28, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

My in-laws are Republicans so I bought that Bush book for my husband's father for Christmas but he had already bought the book for himself.

In the bookstore there weren't that many books left. I was surprised that people had actually bought the book in the bookstore.

Although Bush has low approval ratings there are Republicans who really like him.

Posted by: Maritza on December 28, 2010 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

"This is a long-running phenomenon ..."

Phenomenon? Naw, standard business in the pop music industry that creates and meets it's own sales targets. Have you ever met anyone who purchased K-Fed CD? or Britney?or Justin?

Posted by: Jeff In Ohio on December 28, 2010 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

A number of copies of W's fantasy novel were exchanged as Christmas presents among my very conservative Republican family members. I can count at lease eleven that I know of / remember. (I have a large family and they are all Republican.)

I can guarantee, however, that not a single one will actually read the book. They don't actually read books, of course, because they already know everything they need to know.

Posted by: Bucky on December 28, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Let's use Occam's Razor and come to the most obvious, simplest conclusion that is, unfortunately, borne out by much evidence:

Many, many Americans are very, very STUPID.

Posted by: JD on December 28, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

It's already being marked down, which means that the publisher expected far better business.

Posted by: Rich on December 28, 2010 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

Another big source of sales is right-wing magazines that give books away for free with a subscription. I wonder what percentage of the sales are bulk sales?

Posted by: hells littlest angel on December 28, 2010 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

"Without access to the data"

Now why do you suppose they don't allow access to the data? Possible something to hide?

"If there are better explanations"

And no there are no better explanations.

Ann Coulter's vulgar trash usually makes these lists. And there is no other to explain it.

Posted by: jharp on December 28, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK
Have you ever met anyone who purchased K-Fed CD? or Britney?or Justin?

Posted by: Jeff In Ohio on December 28, 2010 at 12:48 PM

My daughter was very into Britney Spears back in the day.

Given that she's now on the Dean's List at Cornell, I have to assume she's grown out of that phase.

Posted by: Prairie Blue on December 28, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

The bulk-buy "theory" is hardly a hypothetical. We've known about this since the Gingrich years. The NYT changed their rules so that Publisher A selling a million copies to its subsidiary Warehouse B didn't count as sales for Bestseller purposes, and the warehouses responded by tucking in a copy of "The O'Reilly Factor for Kids" with every order whether you wanted one or not.

So if I can get "Decision Points" for a penny plus shipping and handling with membership in the Glenn Beck Book Club, of course it's going to move a lot of copies. Most of them will go unread, but hey, no complaints there.

But really, I think this is just a reflection of the fact that plunking down $20 on a ghostwritten book with the name of a famous conservative on it is one of the accepted ways of marking your identity in the conservative crowd. It's just something you DO, a little act of veneration. It's the conservative version of the NPR tote bag.

Posted by: Matt on December 28, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Who else but Republicans have enough spare money to buy a book?

Posted by: MPK on December 28, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'm guessing conservatives forgive his incompetence in deference to his overall faithfulness to their in-group. Or maybe it's backlash in response to Obama and nostalgia for when one of their guys was in the oval office.

I personally cannot find it in me to read any Presidential memoirs, whether I liked the President or not. Who wants to read ex-presidential apologetics? It's basically a compilation of their interviews and speeches from when they were in office, with an occasional marginally interesting (but now irrelevant) "revelation".

Posted by: DelCapslock on December 28, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

I'm with Bucky. People are really buying it, they just aren't really reading it.

Liberals buy books in order to read them. On those rare occasions when conservatives buy books, most do so primarily to signal their tribal membership. Just as millions upon millions of bibles are placed on prominent shelves to collect dust and the dutiful admiration of visitors.

Posted by: pt bridgeport on December 28, 2010 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know anything about this, so I'm only asking...

Do they publish the list of best-selling e-books? Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, all sell electronic versions of various books. Is Bush's book for sale in that form? Is anyone buying it that way?

I would assume that people who download e-books actually intend to read them, and don't just buy them as gifts for a conservative in-law or intend for them to decorate the shelf next to Glenn Beck.

Posted by: Okie on December 28, 2010 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Conservatives read? Who knew?

Seriously, I have never seen anybody actually reading Bush's book, but I have seen copies on the book shelves of various conservatives.

Posted by: Ron Byers on December 28, 2010 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

This is exactly it. It's the same reason why the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books move millions upon millions of copies when no credible financial planner would recommend taking any of the advice found in those books.

Posted by: Matt on December 28, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

But really, I think this is just a reflection of the fact that plunking down $20 on a ghostwritten book with the name of a famous conservative on it is one of the accepted ways of marking your identity in the conservative crowd. It's just something you DO, a little act of veneration. It's the conservative version of the NPR tote bag.

Matt beat me to it. I saw the same thing visiting my conservative in-laws over Thanksgiving. It's a tribal identifier. I'm pretty sure that none of them will read it.

Posted by: AK Liberal on December 28, 2010 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

And it is solely on these inflated book sales numbers that Nora O'Donnell called GW Bush the winner of the year on The Chris Matthews Show yesterday.
If you are wondering she did it with a straight face. Gotta love the Village

Posted by: lib4 on December 28, 2010 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I think a lot of wingers want reassurance that the guy they voted for twice and is now one of the least popular presidents in American history was not an absolutely abject failure as leader of the free world. And W.'s book tells them what they want to hear--that the majority of people just don't understand how great he really was and all the tough calls he had to make. But the winger book buyers do and that makes them feel better about their votes.

Posted by: tomvox1 on December 28, 2010 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Answer: Republicans are idiots. A year ago, if you talked about Bush's handling of the budget and the economy, you'd get nothing but criticism of that scurrilous fake conservative (he's practically a liberal!). Now he's a really great guy again!

Posted by: Boronx on December 28, 2010 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

A gag gift, that's just cruel! I personally can't wait to read the "Authorator".

Posted by: Trollop on December 28, 2010 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

Given the huge hardcover sales, I ask:"Why do Conservatives hate trees?"

Posted by: DAY on December 28, 2010 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe there is a simple explanation. The adult population of the United States is about 250 million. If only one person in one hundred and twenty five people buys a copy then that comes to two million copies sold.

Posted by: blowback on December 28, 2010 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

NYT Bestsellers list is not what it used to be and I no longer take it seriously nor see it as being a sign of success.

Posted by: Silver Owl on December 28, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

OVer 400 Amazon customers have taken the time to give the book FIVE STARS. I think this falls into Atrios's "whatever pisses off liberals" category -- everyone knows W was a complete failure as a president, but Repugs think it drives liberals CA-RAZAY to suggest otherwise, so they buy the book (see also Palin, Bristol: Stars, Dancing With the).

Posted by: ManOutOfTime on December 28, 2010 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Saying the Bush book would flop was an ill-advised prediction, especially if one is aware of the conservative book clubs. They were gonna buy Bush books in bulk like crack whores to make sure it stayed atop the lists.

Posted by: DZ on December 28, 2010 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Money laundering. The book is excremental, unreadable garbage from a man everyone wants to forget. But think how much campaign money was redirected to the cloistered conservative press. And then moved again into the pockets of favorites. Conservatives have no ethical compass. It is all about feathering nests and nepotism.

Posted by: Sparko on December 28, 2010 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

And Little Fockers has grossed $45million at the boxoffice in its first week. What does that really say about anything? The NYT, and other, "bestseller" list are meaningless ego boosts and marketing gimmicks with no more value or validity to the readers than the horoscope.

Posted by: martin on December 28, 2010 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

I bought Al Franken's book , "Lies and the Lying Liars..." for the purpose of sending Al some money as a reward for his good work. Then I read it and bought more copies to send to friends because it was great.

I don't think that is GWB's sales dynamic.

Posted by: Repack Rider on December 28, 2010 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama's first term had been the rousing success it looked like it was going to be when he took office, Bush's stupid book - of which he likely wrote not a word - would be on the giveaway table. Unfortunately, Obama is bogged down trying to make Republicans like him, and now those Republicans have new heart that Bush at least wasn't as bad as this. That's because Democrats were Bush's enablers, lest we forget. How many times did you grind your teeth after Harry Reid promised not to give one inch on the latest Bush initiative, and then caved in and let him have exactly what he wanted? If Democrats had opposed Bush on everything he tried, he would have looked like the enormous failure he was.

I see someone else has already noted the Anne Coulter connection. Her books are best-sellers, too, and they're full of rubbish unsupported by any facts whatsoever, simply pandering to conservatives' hatred of liberals. Book clubs buy them up by the truckload and give them away as promotions. Bet they take a tax deduction, too.

Posted by: Mark on December 28, 2010 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

I have begun boycotting the Borders in the mall where my family and I normally shop because every rightwing "book" is prominantly displayed on the shelves, while customers almost have to dumpster dive to find works by progressive authors. I complained to the management (after accidently setting copies of the most recent biography of Teddy Kennedy in front of the latest vomitous outpourings of Beck, Palin, and my favorite psychopath, Savage), and was told that conservative clap trap sold in that area (Fox Chapel, an affluent suburb of Pittsburgh). I was given the corporate number to call and complain, which I did, to no avail. Book stores like Borders legitimize this crap by displaying it near works by serious authors, and as long as it sells, have no reason to change. Nothing matters so much as profits in this country, and until progressives start to push back against practices like this (perhaps a broader boycott would be in order), conservatives will continue to get a free pass.

Posted by: broken arrow on December 28, 2010 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

a very large part of the american public is not engaged in politics the way readers of this blog are (which is why we are reading it). they are neither far right nor far left. many of them don't even follow politics (not saying this is good, just pointing it out). for example, my sister-in-law, who is a very good person but not politically active, is reading the book, and finds it "fascinating." (i just keep my mouth shut when she talks about it) i think a lot of people who bought the book are like her. bush has been out of office for nearly 2 years; not everyone followed the debates on his failures. they may have thought he was a bad president -- but they are curious about him. they don't know the book is ghostwritten, or largely made up of material already written elsewhere. of course conservative groups do buy the book in huge volumes -- but i do find it a bit patronizing to call most of the american public stupid. uninformed, yes, disengaged, absolutely. which is how the gop just managed to gain control of the house. but not stupid.

Posted by: coloradan on December 28, 2010 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

How many illeterates have W's book prominentaly displayed in their homes?

Posted by: Ted76 on December 28, 2010 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

The really interesting factoid here is that Sarah Palin apparently has no friends among the conservative book-club bulk buyers, since her current tome is tanking compared to her previous one.

Posted by: Redshift on December 28, 2010 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Wrong question, liberals! Why wouldn't real Americans want to buy a book written by our just-retired, most misunderestimated President? He kept us safe after 9/11, freed Iraq, put real conservatives on the Court, and held up liberal takeover plans for years. I bought 23 copies at only $4.99 each from one of those conservative book clubs you ridicule! And yes, many were Christmas presents - you got a problem with that, "Holiday" hawkers?

Posted by: Al on December 28, 2010 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

I'm awaiting the abridged version with pictures. That way I only have to read the very important parts and the binding won't be so hard to crack. Or maybe even the cheap versions used for cheating on college term papers.

Posted by: Stevio on December 28, 2010 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know whether Al is kidding or not, but if he really did by 23 copies at $4.99 from a conservative book club, that would help explain the sales volume of the book. $4.99 per copy sounds like a subsidized purchase by the club. Even if it is getting some sort of bulk rate from the publisher on a "no returns" basis, this sounds like it is at least a couple of dollars below the sale price.

In any event, if conservative organizations are buying this in bulk for the holiday season and as giveaways, this would explain a lot.

Posted by: DRF on December 28, 2010 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

heck of a job Al, 23 books purchased you have done your share

Posted by: Ted76 on December 28, 2010 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Walmart, the world's largest retailer, features conservative titles prominently in its book section, but usually can't be bothered to stock liberal ones. This matters little in NY and LA, or among sophisticated liberal blog readers. But in Bumfuck, Georgia or East Jesus, Kansas, Walmart is just about the only game in town, and those numbers end up making a difference, especially considering how small the book market is.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on December 28, 2010 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Al wrote:
"Wrong question, liberals! Why wouldn't real Americans want to buy a book written by our just-retired, most misunderestimated President? He kept us safe after 9/11, freed Iraq, put real conservatives on the Court, and held up liberal takeover plans for years. I bought 23 copies at only $4.99 each from one of those conservative book clubs you ridicule! And yes, many were Christmas presents - you got a problem with that, "Holiday" hawkers?"

And a Merry Christmas to you Al. The frightening part of your post is that anyone would know 23 people dumb enough to appreciate such a ridiculous gift. Were all the stores in your neighborhood mall out of dickeys?

Posted by: max on December 28, 2010 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

These books are bought in bulk and then soon end up in the cut-out bins. I frequently see numerous pristine copies of new right-wing books end up at my library's used book store for 50 cents each.

Posted by: Speed on December 28, 2010 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't matter how many volumes are sold; what matters is how many are read. Barring masochists and reviewers, I doubt more than 50,000 people have actually opened that book (other than to read the fly-leaf) and many fewer have finished it.
The latter have my sympathy...

Posted by: Doug on December 28, 2010 at 7:31 PM | PERMALINK

Palin actually used a great trick with her first book that is not too different. She had her PAC buy thousands of copies of her book and then the PAC gave them away when people contributed a certain amount of money, she also required some places buy copies when she was going to speak. Palin could not just take money from her PAC for personal use but if you have a PAC buy your book then you get the money from the book sales.

Posted by: Jeff on December 28, 2010 at 8:36 PM | PERMALINK

I am frequently amazed at the capacity of Progressives to just explain away any uncomfortable facts that challenge their world view. I don't generally buy the autobiographies of politicians because, well, what's the point of paying for someone to lie to me? I did buy Bush's though specifically because its such a breathtakingly spin-free (albeit) incomplete account. Its selling for two reasons--Bush is promoting it very effectively and people who have read the book are recommending it to others.

Posted by: Mick Stockinger on December 28, 2010 at 10:48 PM | PERMALINK

My brother-in-law, basically a decent guy and not hyper political, but a knee jerk republican, bought a copy, not so much out of Bush nostalgia, but curiosity as to what the guy he voted for twice has to say about his presidency. I doubt he even read any reviews of the book. I imagine there are quite a few more like him.

Posted by: rip on December 29, 2010 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

Sadly, the idea that the book won't sell on Kindle is wrong--it's currently at #11 on the Kindle bestseller list.

(On the Amazon site, bring up the book by title and then click on the Kindle version, and page down to the book details. The last line gives the ranking.)

I guess we have to remember that even given Bush's terrible approval ratings, even a 30% rating translates into many millions of people.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on December 29, 2010 at 3:47 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe people genuinely wanted to read it. I know that doesn't fit into the left-wing conspiracy mindset, but it might just be the truth.

Posted by: Kevin on December 29, 2010 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, et al: Go have a beer with the son of a bitch then. No one I know, and I know plenty of conservatives, takes the man seriously. This is all smoke and mirrors. There is a lot of campaign cash left over to launder. They buy books like this every time. Palin is no longer in the fake book club.

And red state folks have no money for this crap.

Posted by: Sparko on December 29, 2010 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

coloradan at 2:52 -

Please discover your shift keys. There are two of them. One over there on the left, and one over there on the right. Guess what: using caps and other such traditional devices will get way more people to read what you wrote, unless maybe you are ee cummings.

Posted by: emjayay on December 29, 2010 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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