Publisher Simon & Schuster paid Hillary Clinton a $14 million advance for her new book, Hard Choices. Unless people start reading it, the company will never recoup that payout — let alone make a profit — on Clinton’s memoir of her stint as President Barack Obama’s Secretary of State.
Not only has Hard Choices lagged in sales; its brief stint atop the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list ended last week, giving way to Blood Feud — a sensationalist criticism of the Clinton-Obama family squabble from conservative author Edward Klein.
The Times itself had lamentations. “It is a powerful statement about today’s publishing realities that Mr. Klein’s book, a 320-page unauthorized and barely sourced account full of implausible passages, including one about a physical altercation between Mrs. Clinton and President Obama, has landed atop the New York Times best-seller list, knocking ‘Hard Choices’ to No. 2.”
Maybe people simply prefer reading about entertaining implausibilities to slogging through boring, omissive window dressing.
At any rate, Hard Choices needs to sell at greater volume or at higher cost (or some combination of the two) in order for Simon & Schuster ever to see a dime of profit. According to the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard, the book had sold 177,236 hardcover copies as of Friday. As he goes on to point out, numbers like those don’t get the publisher very far.
“Even at 200,000 total sales, simple math finds that for Simon & Schuster to cover the $14 million advance, each book would have had to sell for about $70,” Bedard wrote. “Amazon offers it for $20.94, about $14 off the $35 list price. It has dropped to 103rd in Amazon sales, compared to 10th for Blood Feud.
“Even at full price, 200,000 in sales would cover just half — $7 million — of Clinton’s advance.”
E-book sales figures aren’t a part of that total, but there are other ways to speculate on how well an e-book is faring. The Washington Post employed a math professor’s non-scientific “formula” for finding out how far readers get into the e-books they’ve downloaded, and came away with the impression that Hard Choices, on average, retained readers’ attention for only 2.04 percent (33 pages) of its length.
But the book — including the gonzo advance — was apparently an altruistic endeavor for Simon & Schuster. In late June, already early enough to see that the book’s staying power would wane early, a company spokesperson told The Washington Post that, “most importantly, reader reaction has been terrific.”
That, wrote the Post‘s Phillip Bump, “is the book publishing equivalent of telling your kid that the important thing about his lopsided loss in soccer was that everyone had fun.”