Conservative Book Sales Slump; Crayons Next?

Obama Administration

Apparently the bloom is off the rose for conservative book imprints.
McKay Coppins writes that the political conservative book genre is in even worse shape than the publishing industry as a whole. However, I’m not buying the excuse. The excuse is that by setting up exclusive imprints for conservative books, publishers have isolated those books from the mainstream marketplace of ideas. They are now a niche market, which limits their distribution and sales.

I say this always was a niche market, marketed almost exclusively through right-wing media to a niche audience, and if these books aren’t selling like they used to there has to be another reason.

McKay doesn’t say anything about the bulk sales that used to push right-wing books up the best-seller list. McKay says that the web “has decimated the subscription-based “book clubs” that launched a slew of conservative best-sellers in the ’90s and early 2000s,” but those book clubs still exist, and they were still considered a viable marketing tool as recently as 2010. Alex Pareene wrote an article in 2010 musing why George W. Bush’s post-presidency book sold more copies than Bill Clinton’s post-presidency book (really?) and the most plausible reason was …

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. And there was no progressive equivalent of the right-wing book-buying machine to boost Clinton’s book when it was released.

Steve Benen wrote in 2010,

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.

Paul Waldman wrote recently,

As a liberal who has written a few books whose sales were, well let’s just say “modest” and leave it at that, I’ve always looked with envy at the system that helps conservatives sell lots and lots of books. The way worked was that you wrote a book, and then you got immediately plugged into a promotion machine that all but guaranteed healthy sales. You’d go on a zillion conservative talk shows, be put in heavy rotation on Fox News, get featured by conservative book clubs, and even have conservative organizations buy thousands of copies of your books in bulk. If you were really lucky, that last item would push the book onto the bestseller lists, getting you even more attention.

It worked great, for the last 15 years or so. But McKay Coppins reports that the success of conservative publishing led to its own decline. As mainstream publishers saw the money being made by conservative houses like Regnery and the occasional breakthrough of books by people like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray, they decided to get into the act with right-leaning imprints of their own. But now, “Many of the same conservatives who cheered this strategy at the start now complain that it has isolated their movement’s writers from the mainstream marketplace of ideas, wreaked havoc on the economics of the industry, and diminished the overall quality of the work.”

Um, Regnery was not, in effect, a niche imprint? Do most book buyers give a hoo-haw about the imprint?

I think it’s usually true that if you are a niche author, you may be better off going with a small publisher that specializes in marketing your sort of book to your sort of audience rather than with one of the big publishers. But conservative books were unusual among niche books in that they had the huge national media infrastructure Waldman talks about to use for promotion. And that infrastructure is still in place.

It used to be that Ann Coulter could crank out the same book every year, titled Liberals Hate God and America and Want to Eat Your Babies, and be all over television promoting it for awhile, being taken seriously by interviewers. Did people finally catch on that if you’ve read one Coulter book, you’ve read ’em all, and there’s really no point buying another one?

My guess is that the demise of suburban mall bookstores might really be a factor, but that would not have impacted book club sales. Whoever was buying copies in bulk may have stopped doing that. There may be a glut of too many books titled Liberals Hate God and America and Want to Eat Your Babies authored by various cable bobbleheads.

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  1. c u n d gulag  •  Mar 22, 2014 @10:08 am

    Since I don’t think they can really read, I suspect that at this point, all of the Conservative Christians have their kitchen and dining room tables balanced, and have enough paper-weights.

    Also, too, why spend your bucks on these books, when FOX and hate-radio are free – 24 X 7 X 364?

  2. David Kowalski  •  Mar 22, 2014 @11:38 am

    Conservatives have a built in advantage. About 65% of people are sensors. They focus on small items and are negative. It’s the trees, not the forest. The decline in conservative book sales may link more directly to the fact that we, as a country, have real problems and these books don’t address the real problems.

    The other 35% are (big-picture) thinkers. They see the overall picture more than the details. When liberalism was successful, the country had real problems and we tackled them. FDR and the WPA not only put people back to work but they left tangible evidence behind that the government can get things done (dams, rural electricity, roads, schools, post offices, football stadiums).

    Crayon sales are safe. Crayons are free form and creative. I guess the conservatives color inside the lines.

    It’s nice to see that Anorexic Annie Coulter’s shtick has finally worn thin after 20 years. She makes sensational charges and then goes off on a book tour to promote her latest same old, same old book.

    If the Obama White House had put some of the bad guys in jail who caused our mini-depression we would be a lot further along,both economically and politically. At least Janet Yellen is a big improvement over Ben Bernanke but the other members of the Fed were not changed (yet?).

  3. c u n d gulag  •  Mar 22, 2014 @12:13 pm

    Btw – can’t let that “crayons” line go without a standing-“O!”

  4. anthrosciguy  •  Mar 22, 2014 @12:44 pm

    It really is pretty simple, and it is probably mostly the bulk buying. If you have, say, $1 million to buy up books, and 10 titles to buy, you can make some big sales numbers for each. If you have a hundred titles, the sales will be limited.

  5. Doug  •  Mar 22, 2014 @1:16 pm

    Look at sport ticket sales. Generally, from season to season ticket sales for the league are constant. Sales for individual teams vary widely depending on the win/loss ratio. People don’t buy tickets to see their side lose.

    Looking at the presidential contenders, who on the GOP side is an exciting prospect? If none of these guys looks like a winner, who cares what they think? With wingnut fever at an all-time high, the big risk is a charismatic leader with broad appeal. If he can write, he will sell books. Right now they got nobody and nobody’s buying.

  6. Swami  •  Mar 22, 2014 @1:45 pm

    I’m waiting for little Lulu’s comprehensive history of the Benghazi affair to hit the presses. When it does.. I’m gonna buy up a whole bunch of them for Christmas gifts for my friends and family. I’m sure my loved ones will appreciate a best selling historical work by an acclaimed literary scholar. When I gave them The Prayer of Jabez one year, and The Purpose Driven Life on another year, they were just thrilled. And I received many compliments from my loved ones on my ability to recognize good authors and good subject matter.

  7. Swami  •  Mar 22, 2014 @1:53 pm

    My mind is a little clouded in memory, but didn’t Mitt Romney have a best seller published when he was on the campaign trail. I think it fell short of the top position on the New York Times best seller list only because Justin Bieber’s biography grabbed that top spot.

  8. c u n d gulag  •  Mar 22, 2014 @2:20 pm

    As a child, I was once a loved one who always had to compliment and thank my Grandmother’s sister on her choice of underwear and socks as gifts, for Christmas.
    I didn’t mean a word of it!
    What kid wants underwear and socks at Christmas?
    Only a very weird kid.
    And, for all of my many faults, I wasn’t that! 😉

  9. Swami  •  Mar 22, 2014 @2:38 pm

    What kid wants underwear and socks at Christmas?

    I was 45 years old and I wanted underroos for Christmas when they came out. I didn’t think it was weird.

  10. mononucleosis  •  Mar 22, 2014 @2:41 pm

    I think you are missing the most obvious reasons for the decline in conservative book sales – cataracts and macular degeneration.
    Most ultra conservative are in my generation and are dealing with health issue that limit their ability to read anything, let alone troglodyte propaganda. This problem will solve itself over the next few years. Death is a strange equalizer.

  11. Swami  •  Mar 22, 2014 @3:13 pm

    Oh, I’m beginning to remember about Romney.. He was engaged in a campaign financial scheme where donors would buy millions of copies of this lame books and his campaign would receive the profits from those sales and avoid the limitation restrictions on allowable individual campaign contributions.. The gist of the scheme was that Romney gamed the campaign financing laws while becoming a best selling author in the process. Win- win!

  12. Mike G  •  Mar 22, 2014 @7:17 pm

    Maybe some of them actually cracked open one of these puerile tomes and was too repulsed to continue the charade.
    Most of these books were never read, but bought to be displayed on bookshelves or coffee tables as proof of ideological conformity when other wingnuts came over. But the most enraged wingnut will only buy so many display-books out of spite for Michael Moore or imagined solidarity with Sean Hannity.

  13. erinyes  •  Mar 22, 2014 @7:21 pm

    If the feed on my Facebook thingie is correct, the wing nuts are on something called “the Washington free beacon” trying to out ass hole each other in the comment section. They don’t need to pay for free beacon toxic waste, and every wing nut I know is tighter than a seized up stainless steel bolt.

  14. Swami  •  Mar 22, 2014 @9:00 pm

    Most of these books were never read, but bought to be displayed on bookshelves or coffee tables as proof of ideological conformity when other wingnuts came over.

    🙂 LMAO ..They’ve replaced the secret handshake.

  15. BlueLoom  •  Mar 23, 2014 @9:04 am

    @mononucleosis: rim shot!

  16. erinyes  •  Mar 23, 2014 @2:08 pm

    “Death is a strange equalizer”. So are dementia and Alzheimer’s.

  17. Peter Castle  •  Mar 24, 2014 @1:33 pm

    Ann Coulter has been marginalizing herself for years. At CPAC, she decried “the browning of America,” spoke of “death squads” for ObamaCare supporters, and equated immigration with rape. This is why conservatives are learning to Never Trust Ann Coulter – at ANY Age, at

  18. maha  •  Mar 24, 2014 @1:41 pm

    This is why conservatives are learning to Never Trust Ann Coulter

    Nah, they eat that stuff up. She’s safe on the Right. I understand a lot of “mainstream” newspapers have dropped her column, though. She’s strictly right-wing niche these days.

  19. Swami  •  Mar 24, 2014 @2:52 pm

    Coulter is just a mess by any and all measures…Spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and physically. The vitriol she spews in her case is derived from the Latin word vita.

    And aside from that…she looks like she was savagely beaten with an ugly stick.

    Oh, lord forgive me, for I know not what I do or say. 🙂

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