After selling about 170,000 copies in its first week on sale and dominating headlines for two straight weeks, former White House antiterrorism adviser Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies (Free Press) is on track to become the year's top-selling political book—at least until Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack (S&S) arrives on April 20. Though the initial demand for Clarke's book, following his March 21 appearance on 60 Minutes and his March 23 testimony before the National Commission on Terrorist Acts (aka the 9-11 commission), took many booksellers by surprise, they quickly began to express confidence that the book would have legs for the foreseeable future.
At Barnes & Noble, v-p of merchandising Bob Wietrak expects Against All Enemies to have a long life through 2004. "We're in an election year, there's no end to the war in Iraq, and we want to know how the terrorists got in here. That need to know is not going to go away," he said. "Clarke is letting people know about the situation and giving them a lot of information."
"This book is hot on people's minds," agreed Amy Rosenfield, inventory control manager at Joseph-Beth Booksellers' Shaker Heights store in Cleveland, Ohio. "[It appeals] not just to people railing against Bush, but people asking 'are we safe?' This book is about events that touched a lot of people. It's not theoretical, it's real."
Free Press publicity director Carisa Hays predicted that the news stories coming out of Clarke's book "will carry for many weeks," while a number of book reviews are scheduled to appear this week and next . In addition, Hays said, Clarke's book is likely to return to the news when the September 11 commission releases its findings on July 26.
Watch Them Fly
The book enters a market that by all accounts is far more receptive to political books than at any other time in recent memory. At B&N, sales in the category have shown annual double-digit increases since "right after the 2000 election," according to Wietrak. "The day Bush was declared president, the next election season began," he said. As cable news programs, morning and evening TV news broadcasts and proliferating Internet sites have remained intently focused on politics over the past three years, observed S&S president Carolyn Reidy, "people have realized that they are really being asked to make a decision. Books are helping them do that."
Like last fall, when books by political personalities Al Franken, Michael Moore and Bill O'Reilly all scaled the bestseller lists, this season's major political books are reinforcing each other, though the success of several books by government insiders addressing serious policy issues is especially striking. Offering an insider's warts-and-all assessment of the Bush administration and launched with a news-making bang that elicited defensive TV appearances from administration officials, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill by Ron Suskind (S&S, Jan. 13; simultaneous from S&S audio) quickly established itself as the top-selling political title to date at B&N. That performance encouraged many booksellers to take a solid position on Against All Enemies, leading to an initial printing of 300,000 copies. (By comparison, Suskind's book began with a 150,000-copy printing.) In its first week on sale, Clarke's book returned the favor by drawing book buyers who were also inclined to purchase The Price of Loyalty. Sales of Suskind's book were up roughly 7% last week, according to S&S executive v-p and publisher David Rosenthal (for current figures, see Behind the Bestsellers, p. 14).
The 9-11 commission hearing on March 23 also raised the profile of another book in which Clarke figures, Ghost Wars:The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion toSeptember 10, 2001 (Penguin Press, Feb. 23). After commission chairman Thomas Kean grilled former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger about whether he had read the recent bestseller by Washington Post managing editor Steve Coll, Kean stated that the book confirmed the commission's findings and admonished Berger to read it. On March 29, Coll's book got another boost when the New York Times' Web site posted a joint review of it and Clarke's book by journalist James Risen that will run in the Sunday Book Review on April 11 (http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/29/books/review/0411books-risen.html). It calls Clarke's book a "thumping good read" and says Coll's book is "certainly the finest historical narrative so far on the origins of Al Qaeda in the post-Soviet rubble of Afghanistan."
The success of Clarke's book is also drawing attention to Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack (Apr. 20; simultaneous S&S audio), which already has an aggressive first printing of 750,000 copies, according to S&S executive v-p and publisher David Rosenthal. Retailers are expecting strong sales, and consumer anticipation of the book is likely to rise as columnists such as the New York Daily News' Lloyd Grove begin to highlight Bush administration concern about what Woodward might have to say.
Meanwhile, booksellers, many of whom had difficulty getting or replenishing stock during the first week Clarke's book was on sale, have become fearful of missing the next anti-Bush bombshell. Some, like Joan Grenier, co-owner of the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., increased their orders for The Politics of Truth (Carroll & Graf, Apr. 30) by former ambassador Joseph Wilson. Though the publication of that memoir is still a month away, it has been mentioned in recent coverage of the Clarke book by the Associated Press and on MSNBC's Hardballwith Chris Matthews. Carroll & Graf has noted "increased demand" for Wilson's book in the days since Clarke's book landed, according to executive editor Philip Turner, but has not yet determined whether it will increase the book's announced first printing of 100,000 copies.