Thursday, April 27, 2006

Greenwald with Envy

Glenn Greenwald has an excellent post about how the Far Right's insular world-view

conflates desire with reality, disregards all facts and evidence that conflict with the decreed beliefs, and faithfully embraces any assertions and fantasies, no matter how baseless and flagrantly false, provided that they bolster the mythology.

Those of us who are card-carrying members of the online "reality-based community" have always been flummoxed by the blithe willingness of certain conservative bloggers to dissemble to their readers and--more inexplicably--to convince themselves of things they suspect can't really be true.

The example Greenwald provides is the Drudge Report's inaccurate and incomplete series of factoids, based entirely on early reports from Bookscan, "proving" that Crashing the Gate (a new hardcover book by liberal bloggers Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga) hasn't met sales expectations. Then Roger L. Simon repeats the nonsense. An author of at least ten novels, Simon surely knows better, so it would appear he is being wholly disingenuous. And, finally, you have the unattractive Pavlovian slobber of a variety of wannabe pundits, who clearly know nothing about Bookscan or hardcover sales or book publishing (or, for that matter, running a business that might require them to leave the attics of their parents' homes) and who prematurely toast the demise of liberalism with the champagne left over from their Iraqi War victory celebrations.

These are the same bottom-line nitwits, of course, who will still insist (simply because that's what they predicted) that Brokeback Mountain was a "box-office failure," notwithstanding its gross intake of $175 million worldwide (not including DVD sales and rentals) on a $14 million production investment. That's an ROI of 1150%, and you don't have to be an economist (or a cowboy) to figure out that there's gold in them there hills.

Here is the reality, for what it's worth to those of us who appreciate such stubborn things as facts.

Since its publication (by Chelsea Green, a small independent press), Crashing the Gate has gone to press for three printings and has shipped 50,000 copies. According to Bookscan, the book has sold an additional thousand copies in the few hours since Drudge filed his "report"--a total of over 4,400 copies through major retail outlets alone. Based on the information available, the "sell-thru" has probably reached well over 10,000 copies in just three weeks.

But none of these figures fully account for many online sales, most independent bookstores, and what we in the business call "special markets." Sales through other channels are a significant share of income for small presses, which don't enjoy the access to "major retail" distribution channels available to the likes of Penguin and Random House. At the relatively small, albeit well-known, publisher where I currently work, non-Bookscan sales account for more than 40% of the business, but a book by bloggers would surely sell far more through nontraditional outlets than through, say, Waldenbooks (which probably wouldn't even carry such a title).

"I'm sorry, but 10,000 isn't a heck of a lot of books, plain and simple! It doesn't matter if Bookscan only queries major retailers--a lot of people still buy their books that way!" giggles William Smith at Conservative Blogger, whose knowledge of the publishing business seems to be inversely proportional to his penchant for exclamation points. As someone who's been in this business for 25 years, I can assure William and his fellow cellar-dwellers that yes, it is. Ten thousand hardcovers (and then some) in just three weeks is extraordinary, especially for an independent publisher. What will surely disturb him even more is that, with sales figures like these, Jeremy and Markos will have no problem at all inking their next book deal with a major publishing house rather than with a small press.

And, for the record, my current place of employment has never published a title with sales of 10,000 copies in three weeks. For an independent press, such big-league figures are marketing dreams and production nightmares. If the book were to sell much more quickly, it could even pose a cash-flow problem, since you'd have to pay for the production of additional reprints before you even receive the income from your initial sales. I'd venture to guess that Crashing the Gate is already one of the best-selling frontlist titles in the history of Chelsea Green.

What's notable about the naysayers is that a couple of them have published books themselves. They know the sales figures for their own books and they know that the numbers for Crashing the Gate are beyond their ken, but when challenged to put up or shut up, they either refuse ("There's a reason there's a Fifth Amendment to the Constitution," sniggers Roger Simon defensively) or remain silent (Matt Drudge himself).

And, finally, this rant wouldn't be complete if we didn't point out that Glenn Greenwald (whose comments opened this post) has written a new book, How Would a Patriot Act? Three weeks before publication, it's already reached #1 at Amazon--a phenomenon I'm sure the fact-loathing members of the Right and the envious authors of conservative clearance titles will somehow explain away as irrelevant.

Update: Roger Simon issues an apology for his "snotty comments."