Lotta people paying good money this week to be lectured about norms.
Someday POTUS is going to figure out that tearing his enemies to shreds on Twitter when they have a new book out does not, in fact, damage sales for those books. On the contrary. Luckily for Jim Comey, that day didn’t come in time to prevent him from becoming very rich.
It’s fun to look back at the various anecdotal reports that “A Higher Loyalty” wasn’t selling well before today’s official sales numbers were posted. The San Francisco Chronicle ran one as recently as last night. It seemed like there wasn’t much Comeymania in the heart of the Resistance:
Store owner Tee Minot said people have been asking about the book, but not buying it, in contrast to the demand for Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” “I think people wanted the gossip of ‘Fire and Fury,’” she said. “I almost think there was too much of a media blitz for this book. All the juicy parts have already been excerpted or talked about on TV or in interviews. … Probably some of the things Comey is talking about are incredibly on target. But we all know them already.”…
In Laurel Village, closest perhaps to the neighborhoods that might include the largest (although small in S.F.) proportion of Trump supporters, manager Ingrid Nystrom also said the Comey book is “doing well,” but sales do not compare to those of “Fire and Fury.” “The first hour we had Michael Wolff’s book, we sold as many as we’ve sold (of the Comey book) for the last three days.”
“There’s a gossipy-ness about the Michael Wolff book that makes it doubly horrifying and fun to read,” said Nystrom, speculating on why Comey’s book was doing so poorly compared to “Fire and Fury.” Comey’s book is one you read over coffee, she added, Wolff’s is one you read over a cocktail. It made sense. James Comey, self-righteous prosecutor, was overexposed and his story wasn’t nearly as juicy as Wolff’s lurid, too-good-to-check accounts of West Wing dysfunction. Smells like a bust in the making!
And then the national sales numbers came in:
Former F.B.I. director James Comey’s book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” has dominated headlines for more than a week, and became an instant blockbuster, selling more than 600,000 copies in all formats during its first week on sale…
The early sales figures for Mr. Comey’s book dwarfed other recent political best sellers. Hillary Clinton’s memoir, “What Happened,” sold more than 300,000 copies in all formats in its first week on sale. And “Fire and Fury,” Michael Wolff’s explosive look inside the Trump White House, sold around 200,000 hardcover copies in its first full week on sale, according to NPD BookScan, which tracks about 85 percent of print sales. Mr. Wolff’s book, which came out in January, has sold more than 2 million copies to date.
He’s sold three times as many copies as “Fire and Fury” did in its first week and double what Hillary sold. Says Alex Griswold, “Congrats to James Comey for beating Hillary Clinton again!”
There’s enough truth to the criticism in the Chronicle story to believe that Comey’s sales may slow down before Wolff’s did. He really has been ubiquitous in media lately and it’s true that the basic details of his most important interactions with Trump, like the request for “loyalty” and his nudging to go easy on Mike Flynn, are by now very old news. The leaking of Comey’s memos last week may also help sate the public’s appetite for what he has to say. If you can read 15 pages of his dealings with Trump for free, do you really want to shell out for a treatment of the same material that’s 20 times longer?
But maybe all of that misunderstands how consumers of political media make their choices. Andrew McCabe hauled in more than $500,000 online for his legal defense fund from Trump-haters, not so much because he needs it — he lives in a million-dollar home and his wife is a respected doctor — but because donating to him is an expressive act of opposition in itself. The Comey book may operate the same way. You don’t buy it because you necessarily want to slog through page upon page of thoughts on democratic “norms,” you buy it because you want to reward Comey’s message that democratic norms are important. You’re creating a market incentive for his message by lavishing cash on him. Or, less exaltedly, by buying a copy you’re really pissing off Trump, who obsesses about metrics like ratings and sales and no doubt will fume over the demand for Comey’s spiel. I’d guess those two impulses, wanting to encourage civic virtue and wanting to make Trump cry, explain the lion’s share of the sales more so than curiosity about the by-now well-worn contents.
One more thing about Comey. Whether intentionally or not, he’s a very shrewd book salesman. The now famous passages in the book about Trump’s hair and hands and Comey’s ambivalence in the Stephanopoulos interview about the possibility that the “pee tape” is real were tawdry business for a supposedly irreproachable just-the-facts lawman. But they were go-o-o-d hooks to get people interested in the book who might not otherwise be all that curious about political autobiographies. Three hundred pages about Emailgate and Russiagate sounds soporific, especially since the basic details are already public knowledge, but mix in some digs at POTUS and a little strategic semi-plausibility for the most salacious dossier claims and now you’ve got people intrigued.
He’ll be on CNN tomorrow night for a “town hall” to sell a few more copies. I can’t remember the last time the work of a private citizen (who hadn’t run for president) merited a nationally televised Q&A forum. Exit question: Comey’s sales all but guarantee that everyone who leaves the Trump administration on a bad note will be writing a tell-all, right? Not that there was much doubt about that before, but there’s zero doubt now.