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Getting the Book Right By: Bill Steigerwald
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Regnery Publishing hasn’t always been the Fox News Channel of the book publishing world, but it’s always been politically important. Regnery, where conservative authors, their books and their ideas have always been treated with love and respect, started out small and humble in 1947. But it soon made a name for itself -- and played an important role in resurrecting the conservative intellectual movement -- by publishing classic conservative books like young William F. Buckley Jr.’s God and Man at Yale (1951) and Russell Kirk's seminal The Conservative Mind (1953).

Since 1993, when it became part of the Eagle Publishing empire, Regnery has become the country’s number one conservative publisher, thanks to a string of politically potent New York Times best-selling books like Unlimited Access by former FBI Agent Gary Aldrich, Bias by Bernard Goldberg and Unfit for Command by John O’Neill and Jerome Corsi. Regnery’s stable of authors today includes everyone from Ted Nugent and Oliver North to Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and Newt Gingrich. To find out how her company and the otherwise mostly liberal world of book publishing are doing in these troubled and changing times, I called Regnery’s president Marji Ross on Tuesday (Dec. 23) at her office in Washington, D.C.

Q: In general, what’s the health of book publishing?
A: The answer comes in two parts. Book publishing is quite healthy. I’m not sure that book retailing is as healthy. The economic turndown and particularly the pressures on retailers in the last year have really hurt book sellers. I think there is a lot of pressure on book retailers, whether it’s their primary product or not, to make a profit and be successful. Part of it is because we book publishers publish too many books. I don’t think Regnery is as much of a culprit -- at least I hope not -- as many others. Our approach is to sell more copies of the books we publish rather than just publishing more titles. But in general I think there are probably twice as many or three times as many new titles published every year than anyone could possibly need or want. That puts a lot of pressure on retailers to try to figure out what they ought to have on the shelves and how to keep people happy.

Q: Has the Internet helped?
A: Yes, a little bit. Certainly, it’s a lot easier for Amazon to have 6 million titles than it is for Barnes & Noble to have 6 million titles in a store. So if people are looking for something along Chris Anderson’s “long-tail” theory, it’s easy to find little niche books and little subjects if you are looking online rather than going to a store. At the same time, readers are still rather tactile and they like to hold a book and see a book and get a feel for the book. There are so many things that are communicated in the packaging and titling and jacketing of a book that you don’t get by just seeing a book on a screen. There’s a very emotional, visceral argument for book stores to be an ongoing part of the book publishing business.

Q: Do books still have political clout or the power to influence public policy the way they used to?
A: I think they do. I absolutely think that a compellingly argued, insightful analysis by an interesting author -- which I hope describes Regnery books; that’s what we are going for! -- can have a great impact on politics, on policy and, perhaps just as important, on the public debate.

One of our goals at Regnery is to publish books that spark a debate. We like it when people are arguing about the ideas and the case made in any one of our books. It not only stimulates interest among potential buyers, but I also think it’s part of the larger mission that book publishers have -- which is to get people talking and thinking about ideas, and to give people new ways of looking at the world and at least considering that maybe their assumptions need to be examined.

Q: Do you have a recent example of such a book?
A: I certainly think that the book we published in 2004, which was called Unfit for Command -- it was the Swift boat veterans' book on John Kerry. I feel very confident in saying that that had an impact on the election and that played a role in the outcome of the election. I don’t think it determined the outcome, but it played a role. For a book to make a difference in the election/selection of a president, is pretty impressive for a book, in my opinion, and pretty good evidence that books can make a difference and play a larger role.

Q: Do conservatives sell books to liberals and vice versa, or is everyone preaching to their respective choirs?
A: As a business person, a publisher’s first job is to make sure you ask, “Who is the core audience of this book I’m about to publish?” Or “This book that I’m about to sign up?” Even before you publish it, way before you publish it, you need to be thinking about who’s the audience, who’s the market for your book. In a lot of cases, the core market – the center of the bull’s-eye – is going to be people who think similarly to the author; that hold similar values and beliefs. I think a good book goes beyond the center of the bull’s-eye, goes beyond the core market, to many expanding concentric circles. So that when we publish a book that we feel is truly successful, it talks not just to people who already agree with the author and agree with the premise, but also people who are interested in the topic, interested in the debate, but maybe haven’t made up their mind yet and they are looking for some arguments, some reasons to land on one side of the fence or the other.

Q: Do you have an example of that kind of book?
A: Yes, a book we published a few years ago called “Bias” by Bernie Goldberg. First of all, he was not a conservative. He came from the liberal media. He worked for CBS for decades. His book -- I have heard many, many times – was read and respected by people well beyond just a core conservative readership who maybe already believed that the media had a bias. We have a new book coming by Bernie Goldberg in January – the title is A Slobbering Love Affair. The interesting argument he makes in that book is that for the first time ever in this election cycle the media crossed the line from just being biased and being fans of a particular candidate to actually proactively doing things in their coverage to affect the outcome of the election. He has plenty examples in his book of how they were not just chronicling history but actually wanting to be makers of history and many quotes from people in the press who were unabashed about that – who were not afraid to say “We want to make this happen” and “We are going to do our jobs in a way to make this happen.”

Q: What is Regnery’s mission? Is it to make money, to influence the political debate, keep conservative values alive -- other stuff?
A: All of those things. It is absolutely to publish books that discuss important issues of the day and are directed primarily toward a conservative audience -- and to make money doing it.

Q: Your greatest successes of 2008 are?
A: We actually had five books hit the New York Times printed best-seller list. That’s one of our measures of success, both because of the obvious sales that that implies but also because of the visibility that that gains for the book and the author. Once it’s on the list it ends up being covered more and displayed more prominently, and so on. The five were Real Change by Newt Gingrich; Black Belt Patriotism by Chuck Norris; Ted, White and Blue by Ted Nugent; Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less also by Newt Gingrich; and The Case Against Barack Obama by David Freddoso, which was on the list for about nine weeks. It did very well.

Q: You’ve already mentioned Bernie Goldberg’s book. Are there others you think will be big and exciting in 2009?
A: Yes. We have one coming January called American Grit by (columnist) Tony Blankley …. This is a book about basically how America and Americans need to get tough. In contrast to a lot of the rhetoric and likely policies of the incoming Obama administration, which Tony describes as favoring a dependency mentality, a foreign policy of appeasement and operating from a position of weakness rather than strength, he’s arguing for some very tough sacrifices and very pragmatic policies that he feels are really necessary for us to both regain our footing and have a chance of keeping our status both as the world’s only superpower but also as a symbol of freedom and democracy in the world. He’s calling for some pretty radical things, including a military draft, which will spark an interesting debate; there will be plenty of people on both sides who won’t like that. And he’s calling for what he calls “A New Nationalism,” which includes, in his opinion, being much more pragmatic on things like how we handle civil liberties, how we handle racial profiling, how we handle calls for multiculturalism, how we handle our communication strategy internationally – what we need to do to get the message out and compete with Al Jazeera, if you will. In a lot of cases, in his opinion, we’re really failing at that and it’s really important for not only the country but the world to do a better job of communicating what America stands for and why we are doing the things we do. That should be a very interesting book. There will be a lot of debate and argument over some of the things he’s proposing.

We also have a book coming out on the economic collapse called Meltdown by Tom Woods, who’s another best-selling author. He’s a fellow at the Von Mises Institute and he’s quite expert in issues of finance and economics and money and he’s basically writing from a premise that the bailout is and was the worst possible quote “solution” to the economic collapse. He’ll explain why the economy is in the state it’s in, what caused it and why the bailout is the wrong approach and what a better approach would be.

A third book coming out early in the year is by a British author named James Delingpole, and it’s called Welcome to Obamaland. It has a very fun subtitle, which is “I Have Seen Your Future and It Doesn’t Work.” The premise is that behind the rhetoric most of the policies that we are going to get under an Obama administration are going to be socialistic in nature. This author compares that to Tony Blair’s career in Great Britain. Basically, Delingpole says, “I lived through 10 years of the Blair government, saw the wonderful promises, the star-struck reception that he got from the voters, and then when it came down to it, the nationalized health care, economic policies, international policies and energy policies have been the ruin of the economy and potentially the country. He warns that we are about to get the same thing. He’s talking about a dark subject, but he’s very witty and very funny, so it’s a very entertaining read.

Q: For young adults who are starting to read conservative books, where would you recommend that they start?
A: I would recommend that they start with handful of things. I would recommend that they read William F. Buckley Jr.’s God and Man at Yale, because they might find some relevance reading someone who himself was a young adult at the time struggling with some of these ideas and against some of these forces. I think they should read Barry Goldwater’s Conscience of a Conservative -- a quick, easy read; really important.

We actually have published a series of books that is targeted toward a younger audience and those are our “Politically Incorrect Guides.” We have a politically incorrect guide on a number of different subjects, including global warming, capitalism, American history, the Civil War, feminism, the Bible, the Constitution. Those are entertaining and somewhat irreverent but at the same time great, quick ways to see where both from the media and from the education system the bias in presentation of subjects and topics has led to a real misunderstanding or a complete ignorance of a lot of basic history and basic facts in some really important areas.

Q: What is your favorite political book -- one you’d like to read again for the first time?
A: I have two. My two favorite books I could sit down and read again are Miles Gone By, which was William F. Buckley Jr.’s autobiography, which we published a few years ago. It is such a wonderful book. It was such a pleasure, such a treat, to read it. The other one is America Alone by Mark Steyn. Those two are probably two of the best-written books that I have had the privilege of working on or being involved in in some ways. They are enjoyable to read as well as presenting some really interesting and important ideas.

Q: Is there a liberal counterpart to Regnery?
A: No. I’ll say “no,” and then I’ll amend that: I think, largely, my experience is clearly that most New York publishers are very liberal personally, and that does influence their choice of books, that influences the books and authors they decide not to work with and it also greatly influences the way they market their books and the way they describe their books -- even when their books are by conservative authors, which is kind of amusing to me when I see it. I know a number of conservatives who have worked at New York publishers who have been uncomfortable with the degree of explicit liberal bias that they have had to work inside.

At the same time, there are a couple of smaller imprints -- The Nation magazine has a line of books, Nation Books, that are very likely to take a point of view quite opposite that of Regnery. Public Affairs is a very good publisher that does a lot of books from a liberal point of view. But I’m not sure it ever occurred to a New York publisher to do a line of liberal books because I think that it’s what they naturally did. It did of course occur to them at some point along the way – they woke up and said, “Gosh! Regnery is doing really well and their books keep getting on the best-seller list and their authors keep being on the media – maybe we should do that conservative thing!”

… Regnery had the (conservative book market) pretty much to ourselves for a quite along time. When a handful of New York publishers thumped their foreheads and said, “Gee, we ought to do that” and launched some dedicated conservative imprints they poached some editors from Regnery because they knew that we knew what we were doing – and that was fine – and launched those imprints, both Crown Forum and Sentinel. But because those imprints were still a tiny little island in a huge sea of liberal bias, the stories I’d hear is that they were constantly working at cross purposes and doing things that would hamper their success, because they didn’t believe in the books, they didn’t respect the authors and most importantly they didn’t like the market – they didn’t like the readers. If you have a disrespect for the customer, it’s awfully hard to do a good job in servicing them.

Bill Steigerwald is the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's associate editor. Call him at (412) 320-7983. E-mail him at: bsteigerwald@tribweb.com.

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