Friday, February 23, 2007

Does Anyone Really Read These Things?

The New York Times had an article yesterday concerning a "minigenre of publishing" that it labels "candidate lit." As this country rather painfully (and way too early) makes its way toward another presidential election campaign, many publishers are releasing new books by hopeful candidates and are even emptying their warehouses of leftovers from previously released books that they hope to unload on a gullible public.

For candidates, writing a book is a way to make money, build gravitas and grab media attention. (They can also use a memoir as a dumping ground for past unpleasantries, paving the way for the campaign-trail line “I addressed that in my book.”)

For publishers the 2008 campaign season is the time to rerelease forgotten titles, sign unpublished candidates and, if they’re lucky, laugh all the way to the bank as they reap sales from best-selling political books. “What you have, essentially, is a celebrity with built-in press coverage,” said David Rosenthal, the publisher of Simon & Schuster. Mr. Obama’s latest book, for example, has sold more than a million copies in hardcover.
Mr. Obama’s recent success has revived the notion of experiencing the pace and trappings of a presidential campaign through a book tour, said Chuck Todd, editor of the daily political tip sheet Hotline.

“The book publishing business has become the new exploratory committee,” Mr. Todd said. “For Obama, it was a way of testing the waters. That’s when you find out: Are you interesting enough to get enough interviews? Can you get people to show up for a signing?”

I think that's what this is really all about. Release a book, hit a book tour across much of the country to see what kind of crowds show up and how many newspaper reporters tag along for some free publicity. The candidates aren't really all that concerned with the number of books that they sell, except maybe for bragging rights amongst their peers. Of course, the publishers have book sales in mind and have been known to lose their shirts on this kind of book.

But I still have to Obama sold a million books, but how many of them were actually read? I'd be willing to bet that number is a whole lot less than one million.


  1. What bothers me is the "celebrity" status of the canidates. I don't want a president because he's popular; I want one who's qualified. Obama and Clinton have books; Gore has a movie... it's not what it should be about.

    Obama has not one, but 2 books, and we sell a lot of them. You bring up a good point though... how many people buy the book, get it signed at some campaign event, and put the book on their shelf without ever reading it?

  2. " many people buy the book, get it signed at some campaign event, and put the book on their shelf without ever reading it?"

    The vast majority of them is what I would bet. Presidential candidates are treated like rock stars these days and everyone wants a piece of them to take home...what better than a dose of their political tripe with a nice personalied signature?

    Those books are generally full of spin, distortioins, outright lies, and omissions (in the sense that a book can "contain" an omission). They are largely a waste of money and and I see why they go unread so often.