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Trump's Win Changed The Game For Publishers On The Left And The Right

Apr 12, 2017
Originally published on April 13, 2017 10:36 am

There's a role reversal underway in political publishing. For years, conservative publishers have thrived as their readers flocked to buy books aimed directly at taking down the party in power. Now, with Republicans in control, they have to rethink their strategy. Left leaning publishers meanwhile are hoping to take advantage of the new political landscape.

Regnery books — which marks its 70th anniversary this year — is the grand old dame of conservative publishing. Dinesh d'Souza, Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham have all published with Regnery.

"For many years we would say what was bad for the country was good for Regnery," says Marji Ross, Regnery's president and publisher. "And by that we meant that when the opposition was in power that made our job a little easier and our books more successful."

When Donald Trump was elected President in November, some conservative book publishers were caught off guard. Rolf Zettersten, head of Center Street Books, the conservative division of Hachette Publishing, was expecting Hillary Clinton to win. His company was poised to publish several books critical of her presidency.

"We had to pivot and say: What are we going to do with these books that were going to be anti-Hillary?" Zettersten says. "Instead we developed new approaches that talked about the Trump agenda."

But Trump's presidency has exposed some deep divisions on the right, and conservative publishers have to reflect those differences.

"You have social conservatives, you have economic conservatives, you have people who are more libertarian," Ross says. And a Republican in the White House brings all of those divisions into sharper focus, she says — "because then all the different factions are lobbying for their version of what's right for the future."

There is one almost surefire route to success in conservative publishing — Zettersten says books by well-known personalities on Fox TV or talk radio, with a "take no prisoners" brand of politics often end up the best-seller list.

"If you are a polite voice in this market you really don't get listened to," Zettersten says. "We've certainly published our share of polite conservative books and they just don't sell as well."

Center Street already has new book on the New York Times best-seller list: It's called Trump's War: His Battle for America, written by conservative talk show host Michael Savage, who is not exactly known for politeness.

But provocateurs can go too far. Threshold Editions, the conservative wing of Simon & Schuster, canceled its contract with Milo Yiannopoulos after it decided remarks the right wing commentator made about pedophilia were too controversial. Of course, Yiannopoulos built his reputation on inflammatory rhetoric.

"I love flame throwers," says Marji Ross, who was offered the Yiannopoulos book but chose not publish it. Now Yiannopoulos is shopping it around again and it's been reported that Regnery might pick it up this time. Ross declined to confirm or deny that rumor. She says she has no problem with provocative political books, but not everyone agrees.

"Some people gravitate to certain radio talk show hosts who are really bombastic, and other people just can't deal with that," she says. "They want the more soft-spoken. And our job is to try to reach as broad of an audience as we can without watering down the essence of an author either in their message or in their style."

While conservative publishers are getting used to a new political reality, those on the left are realizing they've got a new advantage. Andrew Hsiao, an editor with Verso Books, is in that situation.

"I feel a bit sheepish saying this," he admits. "I am so deeply opposed to Trump — but let's face it — opposition is often good for political publishers. And our sales have already taken off. People feel hungry for criticism, analysis, knowledge and inspiration."

Verso Books has a history of opposition to the status quo in both the Republican and Democratic party. Hsiao says Verso comes out of the socialist tradition and publishes a wide range of progressive thinking. He sees their mission as two-fold: To open people's minds to new ways of thinking and to support the resistance.

"In a way, movements call up the literature that they need," Hsiao says. "And our fortunes in the last decade have exploded. I think it's unquestionably because of a new movement, especially among young people, to look for more radical alternatives, radical solutions to American problems."

Hsiao says the country is engaged in an intense political throw-down which he thinks is better than complacency. And publishers — on the right and the left — are in the middle of the fray.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For years, conservative publishers have thrived. Their readers have flocked to buy books aimed at taking down the party in power. Now that Republicans control Washington, these publishers are rethinking their strategy, and their counterparts on the left are positioning themselves to capitalize on the new political landscape. NPR's Lynn Neary reports.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Regnery books is the grand old dame of conservative publishing. This year it celebrates its 70th anniversary. Regnery's authors have included Dinesh D'Souza, Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham. Marji Ross is Regnery's president and publisher.

MARJI ROSS: For many years, we would say that what was bad for the country was good for Regnery. And by that we meant that when the opposition was in power, that made our job a little bit easier and our books more successful.

NEARY: When Donald Trump was elected president last November, some conservative book publishers were caught off-guard. Ralph Zettersten is the head of Center Street Books, the conservative division of Hachette Publishing. He expected Hillary Clinton would win and was ready to publish several books critical of her presidency.

ROLF ZETTERSTEN: We had to pivot and say, what are we going to do with these books that were going to be anti-Hillary? And instead, we developed new approaches to books that talked about the Trump agenda.

NEARY: But Trump's presidency has exposed some deep divisions on the right, and conservative publishers have to reflect those differences. Marji Ross.

ROSS: You know, you have social conservatives. You have economic conservatives. You have people who are more libertarian. It's probably brought into sharper focus, frankly, when you do have a Republican in the White House because then all the different factions are lobbying for their version of what's right for the future.

NEARY: There is one almost surefire route to success in conservative publishing. Rolf Zettersten says books by well-known personalities on Fox TV or talk radio with a take-no-prisoners brand of politics often end up on the bestseller list.

ZETTERSTEN: If you are a polite voice in this market, you really don't get listened to. We've certainly published our share of polite conservative books, and they just don't sell as well.

NEARY: Center Street already has a new book on the New York Times best-seller list, "Trump's War" by conservative talk show host Michael Savage, who is not known for politeness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL SAVAGE: The propaganda ministry called ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News and C-SPAN - the propaganda ministry has spun a web of lies about this presidency destroying the nation itself. They would not care. If they burnt the nation to the ground, they wouldn't care.

NEARY: But provocateurs can go too far. Threshold Editions, the conservative wing of Simon & Schuster, canceled its contract with Milo Yiannopoulos after it decided remarks the right-wing commentator made about pedophilia were too controversial. Of course Yiannopoulos built his reputation on inflammatory rhetoric.

ROSS: I love flame throwers.

NEARY: Marji Ross was offered the Yiannopoulos book but chose not to publish it. Now Yiannopoulos is shopping it around again, and it's been reported that Regnery might pick it up this time. Ross declined to confirm or deny that rumor. She says she has no problem with provocative political books, but not everyone likes them.

ROSS: Some people gravitate to certain radio talk show hosts who are really bombastic. And other people just can't deal with that, and they want more soft-spoken. And our job is to try to reach as broad of an audience as we can without watering down the essence of an author either in their message or in their style.

NEARY: While conservative publishers are getting used to a new political reality, those on the left are realizing they've got a new advantage. Andy Hsiao is an editor with Verso Books.

ANDY HSIAO: I feel a bit sheepish saying this. I am so deeply opposed to Trump. But let's face it. Opposition is often good for political publishers, and our sales have already taken off. People feel hungry for, you know, criticism, analysis, knowledge and inspiration.

NEARY: Verso books has a history of opposition to the status quo in both the Republican and Democratic Party. Hsiao says Verso comes out of the socialist tradition and publishes a wide range of progressive thinking. He sees their mission as twofold - to open people's minds to new ways of thinking and to support the resistance.

HSIAO: In a way, movements call up the literature that they need. And our fortunes in the last decade have exploded. And I think it's unquestionably because of a new movement, especially among young people, to look for more radical alternatives, radical solutions to American problems.

NEARY: Hsiao says the country is engaged in an intense political throwdown which he thinks is better than complacency. And publishers on the right and the left are in the middle of the fray. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.