The Huffington Post's Sam Stein reported last week that Amazon sales for Michael Wolff's much-hyped biography of Rupert Murdoch, The Man Who Owns The News, were "disappointing," and that its publisher, Broadway Books, "was set to pull back expenditures on its publicity."
This week, Nielsen BookScan data estimates the sales to date at just 6,000 copies (though BookScan does not include sales from Wal-Mart, Sam's, BJ's , airports or libraries). Further, as of Friday afternoon, the book ranked 2,586 on Barnes & Noble's website and 2,072 on Amazon. According to a source within Broadway Books, the imprint is not happy with the sales numbers and expected the book to sell dramatically better than it has. Executives there, according to the source, are blaming buzz about inaccuracies in Wolff's reporting for the lackluster sales numbers.
David Drake, the publicity director of Broadway Books, repeated his assertion that Random House, Broadway's parent, does not provide sales figures for its books but said that "it is not the case that we are disappointed with Michael Wolff's book. As I am sure you and your readers are aware, the book publishing business has been affected by the sharp economic downturn, as have many other industries. Very few books, if any, are exempt from the challenging retail environment."
And while some outlets and personalities, including jailed media baron Conrad Black, Time, and the New York Times, have come forward disputing portions of Wolff's book, Drake holds that these disputes are unrelated to the book's sales performance.
"We reject any speculation from an un-named source that the book's performance has anything do with what you describe as 'flaws'* in Michael Wolff's reporting," he said in an e-mail. "The book, which has received widespread coverage, has for the most part received positive notices and deservedly so."
Wolff, for his part, has dismissed the disputes by Time and the New York Times, standing by his reporting on the outlets, and slammed Conrad Black (as well as Tina Brown, whose Daily Beast published Black's prison-cell take-down of Wolff's book) on his news aggregation site, Newser:
As for Black, who can from his prison cell dismiss his current plight by saying that prosecutors lost 85% of their case against him and the rest is on appeal, and try to argue that Murdoch lost the London-newspaper circulation wars that forced Black to rob his shareholders to sustain the cash flow that supported his luxurious life, he's clearly lost his mind. This, of course, is not a surprising effect of a fall from the heights to the depths, from luxury into squalor, from being endlessly stroked to being constantly mocked.
*Note: In my email to Drake, I used the word "errors," not "flaws."
Update: Bill Thomas, Editor-in-Chief & Publisher at Doubleday and former Editor-in-Chief at Broadway Books, has denied that Broadway executives blame the lackluster sales numbers on errors in Wolff's books, calling the report "flatly untrue." He said via e-mail:
Everyone who read the book in-house thought Michael did a fantastic reporting job, and so do most of the reviews. And since few people were given access to the manuscript, whomever you spoke to doesn't know what they're talking about.
I know Michael is an interesting topic, but, to repeat, everyone who read the book in-house was and remains enthusiastic about Michael's reporting and writing.