Stolen Thunder, Stolen Profits

What happens when the unique information inside a nonfiction book is revealed by the media before the book is published.

Two bestsellers, State of Denial by Bob Woodward, and Tough Choices by Carly Fiorina, were scooped by journalists before their publication dates. Learn how and why this occurred and what effect it has on the book’s success.

Nonfiction books sometimes contain unique information or perhaps a viewpoint not available elsewhere, often relating to a high-profile author or a topic that is highly newsworthy. The public’s eagerness for information fuels interest in the book. To capitalize on this, publishers orchestrate a carefully planned release date in association with author interviews as well as excerpt sales, which allows the acquiring publication the right to print part of the book before it is available. All of this is jeopardized when the media scoops the author’s material first.

Two bestsellers have been scooped:

* Tough Choices by ousted Hewlett-Packard head Carly Fiorina. Apparently the New York Times was able to purchase a copy of this book prematurely from a bookstore. They ran a lengthy article scooping other media, including CBS’s 60 Minutes, which was supposed to have an exclusive interview running Oct. 8.

* State of Denial by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward. Both the New York Times and The Daily News were able to buy copies of this book prematurely, running stories about the contents. Once again CBS’s 60 Minutes was supposed to get an exclusive on the Sunday night before the Monday bookstore sales began.

Double Jeopardy

A magazine, newspaper or other print media publication can purchase exclusive rights to be the first to publish an excerpt from an about-to-be-published book. These rights are valuable, sometimes earning 6 figures, because the public will be eager to buy that copy of the publication to access that story, thus boosting sales. If another media outlet, either print, radio, TV or online, runs stories about the information first—even if it is not an excerpt but a summary of what is contained in it—the excerpt rights publisher is, understandably, unhappy. The reason? It will reduce the sales for that issue of the magazine or newspaper because people got that information elsewhere. The publication may cancel the excerpt purchase entirely, or demand a much-reduced price for it.

Being scooped also can harm the book’s sales, for the same reason. If the public is eager to know certain information that is freely available in the media, there is less interest in shelling out cash to purchase the published book. It could even jeopardize that book’s chances of appearing on the bestseller lists. LINK

Timing is Everything

It is a truism that any publicity is good publicity. Properly involving the media to create interest in a book is important for generating successful sales. However, we don’t want media publicity to drive people to bookstores to buy the book before it is available. Nor do we want much of the unique information that motivates people to buy to book to be freely available, leaving nothing new for the reader to discover in the contents.


Apparently, the two bestsellers discussed here were scooped because bookstores violated their embargoes. The solution lies in enforcement. Bookstores have signed a contract; honoring it will increase the benefits to all of us in publishing and in the media.

Copyright 2006 by Barbara Doyen. All rights reserved.


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