Day by day, conservatives come closer to securing practically a monopoly on the mass dissemination of political ideas in America. They dominate radio and TV talk shows and now have stolen a march into mainstream publishing. Penguin and Crown (the latter owned by Random House/Bertelsmann) are launching right-wing imprints. And the company that runs Book-of-the-Month Club is launching a new conservative book club.
The wake-up call came in May at the annual convention of the American Booksellers Association in Los Angeles, when Bill O’Reilly went up against Al Franken before usually bored but suddenly spellbound salespeople. “Normally everyone’s very nice, very sweet,” Pat Schroeder, the former Colorado congresswoman who’s now president of the Association of American Publishers, told the Voice. “Well, not this year, let me tell you. These guys were really going at it! People were loving it!”
Right-wing author Ann Coulter noted sarcastically that “apparently New York publishers want to make money.” “Liberal” books don’t need an imprint, she said, because “the entire publishing industry publishes liberal books. There’s never been a problem with that.” Her previous book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, was “unpublishable for six months,” she claimed, before it was picked up by Crown and became a bestseller. Her new screed, Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, is about what she called “the treacherous history of the Democratic Party.” One example? “The obsessive concern at The Village Voice with alleged anti-Arab hate crimes sweeping America.”
Penguin’s yet unnamed conservative imprint plans a book by conservative columnist Mona Charen, said editor Bernadette Malone, who previously worked at Regnery.
Dan Simon, who runs the small, leftish Seven Stories Press, said he thinks the big publishers are in over their heads. “My first thought is, whether it’s from the right or left, I don’t think these corporate publishers understand this kind of publishing,” he said. “I think it has to be done with some kind of vision and involvement, and these corporate houses simply come at it from a market perspective.” The profit incentive for selling political books from the left is definitely there, Simon thinks: “Chomsky, Zinn, Nader—these are major voices, with sure sales. But these voices are still marginalized.” As for the right’s assertion that New York publishers are in bed with the left, Simon replied, “That’s garbage! Very minor right-wing authors are given major deals.”
But Pat Schroeder, for years the outspoken nemesis of her right-wing congressional colleagues, said the new conservative imprints are “a very healthy thing.”
“I think this is a very interesting time, with the country very divided over all sorts of issues,” she said. “People are truly conflicted. It’s a new millennium, a new century, and isn’t it interesting that people who are buying both liberal and conservative books are also buying these books about our forefathers! With my political hat on, I’d say there’s a hunger to go back to our roots and to look at these two rivers of thought that are diametrically opposed. It’s a noisy world!”
Additional reporting: Phoebe St John and Joanna Khenkine