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Colin Robinson

Colin Robinson

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Making Palin Pay

Posted: 12/ 1/09 10:47 AM ET

What a difference a consonant makes. We had no idea, after transposing the "u" and the 'g" in the title of "Going Rogue" for our own Sarah Palin anthology "Going Rouge", that the mix ups between the two books would spread so far and with such persistence. For us at OR Books, the play on titles was only lighthearted legerdemain, designed to draw readers to the critique inside, which, though witty as well as withering, is entirely serious about the threat posed by Palin's populist extremism.

But the muddles just kept coming: In the past few weeks we have been approached by the Voice of North Idaho seeking to interview Palin, by the Salem Web Network, "the largest faith-based, family-friendly audience on the web today", seeking to advertise "Going Rough", and by the Indiana-based Dignitary Protection Group offering their services to ensure the Alaskan Governor's safety during her visit to the state.

Confusion in the media has been no less surreal. CNN, USA Today, and CBC have all featured the "Going Rouge" cover in discussions about Palin's book. But our greatest astonishment, and, OK, pleasure, has derived from Fox News' repeated slip ups. They include mistakenly featuring a studio shot of our book, carefully repackaged as a hardback (we have only published in paper), in a discussion about the unfairness of NBC allocating eleven fact checkers to "Going Rogue".

This incident was covered last week in the lead item of the New York Post's Page Six, creating the delicious irony of a Murdoch newspaper poking fun at a Murdoch TV show for accidentally promoting a rival to the lead title from a Murdoch publishing house. It does not get better.

While the similarities between the two titles continue to confound, the differences in their publishing strategies could not be starker. Harper Collins' approach is an example of the high-volume, low-margin book business that is today the hallmark of the mainstream. With an initial printing of 1.5 million copies reportedly supplemented by reprints of up to a further million, Palin is certainly finding plenty of buyers. And sales are not all in the middle of the country. Over 20,000 copies of the book have been sold in the New York metropolitan area, according to Nielsen Bookscan.

But it's unlikely that HC has been making much money from its bestseller. To turn a profit it needs to make back a purported advance to Palin of $7 million. And the revenue for each book sold is low with Walmart, Costco and Amazon selling the 370 page hardback at less than $10 and subscribers to the conservative Newsmax magazine able to pick up a copy for just $5.

Sales may be much, much lower for "Going Rouge". To date we have been marketing only direct to readers through our website, ferreting out likely customers through a combination of PR, on line advertising, and mailings to lists such as The Nation and Alternet. But, selling at full price without the massive discounts and expenses involved in trade distribution, our profit on each book sold is substantially higher.

From Tuesday this week, via a rights deal with the publishers HCI, "Going Rouge" will be available for the first time through bookstores and on Amazon. Our hope is that the efforts we have made to draw attention to the book, which includes coverage in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine and NPR's On the Media, will have laid the groundwork to drive customers into the stores.

We're not going to see the sort of crowds that have been greeting the "Going Rogue" tour as it makes its way through the heartland. But we might, at the end of the day, put more money into our bank account than Rupert Murdoch puts in his. We both need the cash. He has to survive the crisis that is looming for mainstream publishing; we have a new company, and a new kind of business, to build.