A publishing mystery

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.