Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The New York Times reports that Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons is apparently not selling worth a damn:

...According to Nielsen BookScan, the media-tracking company, "I Am Charlotte Simmons" has sold fewer than 250,000 copies from its release in November through the end of January. Even after accounting for BookScan's acknowledgment that it typically measures about 70 percent of total hardcover sales, that would indicate that the book was selling at a slower pace than Mr. Wolfe's two previous novels....

It would also indicate that the book might not be meeting the publisher's expectations. When Farrar, Straus & Giroux published the novel, it announced a first printing of 1.5 million copies, a figure which, in the wink-wink world of publishing, usually means a commitment to actually print about half that many copies.

(I'll do the math for you, if you're confused: The Times is assuming that 750,000 copies were printed -- and only about 357,000 have been sold. That's less than half the print run, which is dreadful.)

... "I Am Charlotte Simmons" is being discounted by 50 percent or more at bookstores and online, a move publishers often make to try to recoup some of their investment in a book that has not met expectations....

Executives at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Mr. Wolfe's longtime publisher, said the discounting is a common marketing technique intended to keep a book on the best-seller list in the post-holiday period, when fewer people are visiting bookstores. It does not indicate that the performance of "I Am Charlotte Simmons" is disappointing, the executives said....

Stop right there. That last statement is a crock. As a rule, publishers don't blithely print far more copies of a book than they can sell at normal retail prices -- you're not going to find the rest of the pre-Christmas bestseller list already on sale at B&N or Borders at 50% off.

This "shared markdown" is simply a sign that demand was overestimated. Publishers always work with retailers to make sure first printings aren't wildly optimistic; in this case, what seemed like a reasonable first printing (Wolfe's previous novel sold more than a million in hardcover, the Times notes) was way off the mark.

I can't help wondering if the recent report that Charlotte is a presidential favorite was some sort of attempt on the part of the White House to provide support to an ideological comrade. You may think of the book as merely a novel, but on the right it's a text much applauded for correct thinking.

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