A piece outlining the recent woes of the conservative book racket
offers details proving what we've long suspected -- that the whole thing has, in fact, always been a racket.
Recent conservative books -- written by such right-wing superstars as Rand Paul and and Rick Santorum -- have had sales in the range of 7,000-to-20,000 copies.
For most non-fiction works, those figures would not be too unusual. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that the average book sells more than copies than is actually the case. Most authors get royalties in the range of one, two, three dollars a copy -- and a truly good
book, juicy with footnotes and stuffed with original research, might take years to write.
Keep these numbers in mind next time you accuse a writer of being in it for the money.
But in the world of conservative books, the economics are somewhat different. In the first place, I wouldn't be surprised to learn that guys like Rand Paul and Rick Santorum (or Jeb Bush or Bobby Jindal) don't do the actual work of writing. They have people
. That's what the help is for
Not only that...
But today, as numerous conservative imprints, Christian publishers, and mainstream houses compete to sign a finite number of aspiring Republican presidents, publishers are being forced to pay much larger advances than they’re used to.
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.
We don't know what kind of advance Jeb Bush received for his recent offering, but we can be pretty sure that he has people
. Staff must needs be paid. Nevertheless, Bush's masterwork fetched sales of only 4,500 copies.
So how do publishers afford to publish such books? Here's one explanation:
“The publishing business is more like a casino than a real business,” Bellow said. “We’re gambling...and editors are inveterate optimists..."
Another explanation: The publishers stay afloat because they know that the money is coming from Somewhere Else.
Let me lay some covert history on you, starting here
Rewriting the end of "Animal Farm" is just one example of the often absurd lengths to which the C.I.A. went, as recounted in a new book, "The Cultural Cold War: The C.I.A. and the World of Arts and Letters" (The New Press) by Frances Stonor Saunders, a British journalist. Published in Britain last summer, the book will appear here next month.
Much of what Ms. Stonor Saunders writes about, including the C.I.A.'s covert sponsorship of the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom and the British opinion magazine Encounter, was exposed in the late 1960's, generating a wave of indignation. But by combing through archives and unpublished manuscripts and interviewing several of the principal actors, Ms. Stonor Saunders has uncovered many new details and gives the most comprehensive account yet of the agency's activities between 1947 and 1967.
This picture of the C.I.A.'s secret war of ideas has cameo appearances by scores of intellectual celebrities like the critics Dwight Macdonald and Lionel Trilling, the poets Ted Hughes and Derek Walcott and the novelists James Michener and Mary McCarthy, all of whom directly or indirectly benefited from the C.I.A.'s largesse. There are also bundles of cash that were funneled through C.I.A. fronts and several hilarious schemes that resemble a "Spy vs. Spy" cartoon more than a serious defense against Communism.
Ms. Stonor Saunders describes how the C.I.A. cleverly skimmed hundreds of millions of dollars from the Marshall Plan to finance its activities, funneling the money through fake philanthropies it created or real ones like the Ford Foundation.
"We couldn't spend it all," Gilbert Greenway, a former C.I.A. agent, recalled. "There were no limits, and nobody had to account for it. It was amazing."
The Agency was also establishing close links with both book publishing houses and media organizations in the U.S. at this time. It felt that in the world of covert operations, book publishing had a special place. The head of its covert action staff said, "Books differ from all other propaganda media, primarily because one single book can significantly change the reader's attitude and action to an extent unmatched by the impact of any other single medium . . . this of course, not true of all books at all times and with all readers-but it is true significantly often enough to make books the most important weapon of strategic (long-range) propaganda.
Altogether from 1947 until the end of 1967, the CIA produced, subsidized, or sponsored well over 1,000 books. Approximately 20 percent of them were written in English. Many of them were published by cultural organizations backed by the CIA.
I could go on, but there is no need -- you may, with a little Googling, uncover dozens of similar examples.
Yes, I know that the above quotes refer to events which many would label "ancient history."
No, I'm not saying that the CIA as an institution
funded the conservative book trade. I don't believe that -- not for a second.
But: No one can deny that there has always been a massive overlap between Spookworld and movement conservatism. The cars in the parking lot at CIA headquarters usually bear right-wing bumper stickers, or so I have been reliably told.
I posit the following scenario: Spooks learned a long time ago that they could make deals with publishers around the world, who needed a little "outside help" to survive. Even when Agency-funded books lost money, they got into libraries and shaped various debates.
I believe that a handful of covert operators learned "how to do it" during the Cold War...and then moved into private life.
They went to work for conservative foundations and think tanks. And they told their new bosses that they knew how to manipulate the thinking of entire populations. Why restrict such tactics to foreign lands? Why not do it here?
America was, and is, the grand prize. Properly propagandized, Americans might loosen the fetters of Social Security and Medicare, thereby transforming the USA into either Libertarian Paradise...or something closer in spirit to The Handmaid's Tale
Is that scenario really so off the wall? Consider what we recently learned
from the Snowden documents