I’m late to this, but in case you missed it, here’s McKay Coppins’s piece on the decline of the market for conservative books. Back when the trend first started, he says, conservatives were excited that they had finally been noticed, and exulted in the cultural balance that would result from voices of the right getting exposure. Excerpt:
Instead, what followed was the genrefication of conservative literature. Over the next 10 years, corporate publishers launched a half-dozen imprints devoted entirely to producing, promoting, and selling books by right-leaning authors — a model that consigned their work to a niche, same as science fiction or nutritional self-help guides. Many of the same conservatives who cheered this strategy at the start now complain that it has isolated their movement’s writers from the mainstream marketplace of ideas, wreaked havoc on the economics of the industry, and diminished the overall quality of the work.
Editors at these imprints face unprecedented pressure to land cable news and radio provocateurs like Ann Coulter, rather than promote the combative intellectuals, like Allan Bloom and Charles Murray, on whom the business was first built.
“You are left to rely completely on cable and radio [for promotion] and as a consequence of that, you have to provide those venues the type of material they want,” said Bellow, who runs Harper Collins’ conservative imprint, Broadside. “It’s become a kind of blood sport and the most ruthless gladiator comes out on top.”
Here in TAC, John Derbyshire was onto the roots of the conservative publishing crack-up back in 2009. Excerpt:
Much as their blind loyalty discredited the Right, perhaps the worst effect of Limbaugh et al. has been their draining away of political energy from what might have been a much more worthwhile project: the fostering of a middlebrow conservatism. There is nothing wrong with lowbrow conservatism. It’s energizing and fun. What’s wrong is the impression fixed in the minds of too many Americans that conservatism is always lowbrow, an impression our enemies gleefully reinforce when the opportunity arises. Thus a liberal like E.J. Dionne can write, “The cause of Edmund Burke, Leo Strauss, Robert Nisbet and William F. Buckley Jr. is now in the hands of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity. … Reason has been overwhelmed by propaganda, ideas by slogans.” Talk radio has contributed mightily to this development.
It does so by routinely descending into the ad hominem—Feminazis instead of feminism—and catering to reflex rather than thought. Where once conservatism had been about individualism, talk radio now rallies the mob. “Revolt against the masses?” asked Jeffrey Hart. “Limbaugh is the masses.”
In place of the permanent things, we get Happy Meal conservatism: cheap, childish, familiar. Gone are the internal tensions, the thought-provoking paradoxes, the ideological uneasiness that marked the early Right. But however much this dumbing down has damaged the conservative brand, it appeals to millions of Americans.
Derb wasn’t talking about conservative books, but rather conservative talk radio. Is there a connection to the books problem? I think so. I’m not sure when it happened, and I didn’t even realize it had happened until I read Coppins’s piece, but at some point I just assumed that “conservative book” meant “talk radio in print,” and therefore not worth paying attention to. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where if a book is marketed as “conservative,” I assume it’s an ideological screed that can be safely ignored.
Is it just me? The sales figures indicate that it’s not. What was the turning point, do you think? I’m guessing the end of the Bush administration, but I might be wrong. Anybody know?
I wouldn’t be so Schadenfreud-y if I were a liberal. The sad truth is, as the market for conservative books has declined, so has the market for books, period. I talked to a guy in publishing last week, and he said, “The problem is people don’t buy books anymore.” You can see what that would be a problem for a guy in publishing.