I Am America (And So Can You!)

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Quarterly Report: Tough Year Ahead

As we have every quarter for the last several, we’re looking at Barnes & Noble’s recent quarterly report to gauge the trends that are impacting the book industry – which books were big over the last few months and what’s expected for the months ahead. With a recession threatening, Borders faltering, and some even suggesting a merger between the two big book chains, 2008 is shaping up to be a rocky year for the book retailers.Barnes & Noble’s fourth quarter (which ended on February 2nd) was slightly worse than what analysts had expected, but the stock hasn’t been punished on Wall Street. Here are the highlights from CFO Joseph J. Lombardi from the March 20th, Q4 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):”Fiction and the genres had a strong quarter, especially graphic novels and romance. Hardcover sales were driven by a host of familiar names, including Sue Grafton, Dean Koontz, Ken Follett, Stephen King, and a holdover from the spring, Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.”“Both John Grisham and James Patterson had two bestsellers; Grisham with Playing with Pizza and The Appeal, and Patterson with Quickie and Double Cross. Trade paper fiction was driven primarily by movie tie-ins and selections from Oprah Winfrey. Movie tie-ins included The Kite Runner, Atonement, and I Am Legend, and the Oprah recommendations for Pillars of the Earth and Love in the Time of Cholera drove the sales of those titles.” Pretty amazing that Grisham’s The Appeal was a bestseller when it came out only five days before the quarter ended. Meanwhile, Oprah continues to move books.“In non-fiction, areas of strength included biography, humor, health and diet books, as well as the continuing success of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret. Other key hardcover titles included Stephen Colbert’s I Am America, Tom Brokaw’s Boom!, The Dangerous Book for Boys and its sequel, The Daring Book for Girls, and Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food. Non-fiction movie tie-ins also included in non-fiction were Into The Wild and Charlie Wilson’s War.” The continued success of The Secret is somewhat disheartening.Aggressive discounts associated with Barnes & Noble’s membership programs continue to eat into the chain’s gross margins, but interestingly, so did “bestseller markdowns associated with the seventh and final Harry Potter book,” though to a lesser extent.In 2008, Barnes & Noble expects to face a double whammy of “recessionary pressures in this uncertain economic environment” and very challenging comparisons against the final Harry Potter book and improved hardcover sales last year.

Quarterly Report: Media Heavyweights Drive Book Sales

Every three months I’ve been looking at Barnes & Noble’s quarterly conference call to get some insight into recent book industry trends and to see which books were the big sellers over the past few months and which are expected to be big in the coming months. Staving off a post-Harry Potter hangover, B&N’s quarter ended November 3 was boosted by several titles that got major media attention, sending readers into stores to get in on the action.Here are the highlights from CEO Steve Riggio on the Q3 conference call (courtesy Seeking Alpha):The most important factor now “is the effect of media on the book industry and on the sales of individual titles.”The company was “pleasantly surprised when the third quarter opened quite strong with the release of Stephanie Meyer’s Eclipse, which became the fastest-selling teen novel in our history.” It just goes to show, people love vampires.”Media coverage of adult books was more extensive then typical, led by two shows, the CBS news magazine 60 Minutes and Oprah Winfrey.”After feature stories on 60 Minutes, the publicity for “Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence, Clarence Thomas’ My Grandfather’s Son and Joel Osteen’s Become a Better You, and Valerie Plame Wilson’s Fair Game shot those books onto the top of our bestseller list.” In other words, it was a good quarter for books with the author’s picture on the cover.Meanwhile, the backing of Oprah led to “phenomenal demand” for books like Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious Cookbook, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, Cathy Black’s Basic Black, and Michael Roizen’s YOU: Staying Young. In other words, self help and cookbooks remain in the Oprah wheelhouse. The “Book Club” lives on as well, “even sending classics such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera to the top of bestseller lists.”And the last of the big media booksellers turned out to be Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, whose shows helped make a bestseller of Colbert’s I Am America (And So Can You!).Moving on to fiction, “it was a particularly good quarter for new releases for brand name fiction writers and those included John Grisham, David Baldacci, Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson and the return of Ken Follett with his World Without End.”Of course, with big media being the hand that feeds the publishers, the writers strike could limit promotional opportunities. “We are already hearing of cancellations of writers that were scheduled to be on some of the major talk shows.””Nevertheless, several books by brand name writers with new and forthcoming titles including Sue Grafton, Jim Cramer, Steve Martin and Dean Ornish” are expected to do well in the coming months.

Everybody’s President

Wednesday night I went to the Barnes and Noble at Union Square to catch a speech by a jack of all trades. The former Daily Show correspondent turned anchor is now everywhere promoting a book – and running for president. Yes, you guessed right, the almighty Mr. Stephen Colbert.Unfortunately for me, Mr. Colbert was AWOL when I had to leave to go to another meetingafter waiting for 20 minutes. Fortunately for all progressive conservatives a video of his speech can be found here.“It turns out it takes more than 30 minutes a night to fix everything that’s destroying America and that’s where this book comes in,” Mr. Colbert said about his debut work, I Am America (And So Can You!). “This book is truth – my truth,” he said, “I deliver my truth hot and hard, fast and furious.”Mr. Colbert, who announced a possible run for president on The Daily Show on October 16th, declared on The Colbert Report on October 16th that he is indeed running for president – in South Carolina. “After 15 minutes of soul searching I have heard the call,” he said, “I am doing it.”Like his predecessor, Jon Stewart, who in 2004 published the wildly successful America (The Book), Mr. Colbert is excelling in packaging his persona, mock seriousness and witty criticism for a supposedly apolitical generation that allegedly gets its news from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.Comedy Central’s two shows carved such a niche that Messrs. Stewart and Colbert went on to host the Academy awards and – to the apolitical youth’s surprise and amusement – the White House Press Corps Dinner, respectively. “Stewart-Colbert ’08” bumper stickers followed.There is no surprise in Mr. Colbert’s presidential aspirations – nor in his thriving business ventures. But both his seriousness and a jokester nation’s ability to send him straight to the Oval Office – on the heels of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan, you would be an idiot to deny the possibility – make this “joke run” different from its historical antecedents.The difference lies not only in the press’ serious wonder at and contemplation of Mr. Colbert’s run – as they should – but also in the hype and noise the candidate generated since his announcement, surely beating former Tennessee Senator and Law & Order star Fred Thompson.Consider this, how many candidates could persuade The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd to cede her space to a candidate? None – except for Mr. Colbert. And how many “mock-candidates” have appeared on Tim Russert’s Meet The Press? You guess right, again – none, except, well, Mr. Colbert.Like all presidential aspirants, Mr. Colbert too explains his stance on issues and outlines his strengths in his book. I Am America should inform all voters in the upcoming primaries, as well as make each reader a better, more patriotic American. And, it should be an easy read; the author proudly announced that he dictated the whole book over Columbus Day weekend. He also added, “Like a lot of other dictators, there’s one man whose opinion I value above all others’ – mine.” Sound familiar?

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