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Remember Tim Pawlenty's book 'Courage to Stand'? Big advance but few sales

When he was running, briefly, for president in 2012, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty received a $340,000 advance for his book, "Courage to Stand."

Unfortunately for the publisher, only about 12,000 copies were sold, meaning Pawlenty did fine, but the publisher took a bath.

Writer McKay Coppins uses the TPaw book as one example in a story for BuzzFeed about the end of the conservative book craze.

Writes Coppins:

The conservative book business has seen better days. Ten years ago, the genre was a major source of intellectual energy on the right, and the site of a publishing boom, with conservative imprints popping up at industry giants like Random House and Penguin.

But after a decade of disruption, uneven sales, and fierce competition, many leading figures in the conservative literati fear the market has devolved into an echo of cable news, where an overcrowded field of preachers feverishly contends for the attention of the same choir.

As for Pawlenty's book, he notes:

For example, Tim Pawlenty, a short-lived presidential candidate in 2012, received an advance of around $340,000 for his 2010 book Courage to Stand. But the book went on to sell only 11,689 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks most, but not all, bookstore sales. What’s more, Pawlenty’s political action committee bought at least 5,000 of those copies itself in a failed attempt to get it on the New York Times best-seller list, according to one person with knowledge of the strategy.

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Comments (4)

"conservative literati"

appears to be an oxymoron.

The point

The point of these books isn't to make money for the publisher, it's to provide a stipend for potential candidates, especially for candidates who don't have a lot of money like Mr. Pawlenty. As Mr. Coppins suggests but doesn't quite say, it's a way of diverting campaign funds to the candidate. That's why the campaign committee bought those 5000 copies, not really to get it on the New York Times best seller list.

Book stipends

While the money from a book is important, publishing a campaign bio is also seen as a way to give a candidate a reputation for gravitas (can you think of anyone in greater need of such a reputation than Tim Pawlenty?). His musings, as filtered through a ghostwriter, are meant to be read, pondered, and quoted by the media. Ironically, even though the New York Times is the true symbol of the dreaded Liberal Media, getting the "approval" of its best-seller list is an important credential.

Plunkitt

My guru in these matters is George Washington Plunkitt, whose musings on politics were compiled in the classic "Plunkitt of Tammany Hall" as recorded by William T. Riordan. It's a marvelous book which, by the way, can be downloaded for free from Amazon. Plunkitt talks about "honest graft". As it happens the honest graft he discusses in the book, would be regarded as very dishonest graft today, but that's just because we tend to move the lines between honest and dishonest around. The concept itself remains the same.

Books and compensated speeches by politicians, and yes, the odd media figure are often modern forms of dishonest graft. We buy a book or pay to hear a politician speak, not because we wish to be dazzled by their insights, but because we wish to subsidize them personally. This can be done early in the process, to give politicians the needed equivalent of walking around money, or after their careers are over in compensation for services received. This isn't bribery because there isn't or shouldn't be a specific quid pro quo, but the fact is, to name one example, politicians who look after the interests of drug companies are always are that they will have friends in the drug companies after their careers are over.