November 20, 2003

Would the REAL Intellectual Zeitgeist Please Stand Up?

So a reader pointed me to this fun little article, in which the publishing industry attempts to explain why it is that the New York Times Book Review seems a little bit, erm, BIASED when it comes to reviewing right wing tomes.

The books compared are the same in terms of tone: in this corner, Al Franken and Michael Moore, who get multiple reviews, and in the other Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly, who get none.

They sell similar numbers of copies, the content is the same--belittle and name-call the other side--so why the blatant disregard? Please, John Baker, enlighten us:

I dont think its a matter of shunning them because of their political slant, said John Baker of Publisher's Weekly. I think it sees itself as having the responsibility to pursue the intellectual zeitgeist as it were, and not in things that it regards as comparatively transient in terms of political whims and currents of the moment."

Ahaahaahaahaahaa! Whew! Okay, let's recap. Conservatism, so-called in part because it's all about tradition and beliefs that have BEEN AROUND FOREVER is a "transient political whim."

Amazingly, this transient whim on the part of wacky, callow, insufficiently intellectual youths like William F Buckley, seems to have caught on in parts of the country! Why, whatever will those whippersnappers think of next?

Also, Mr. Baker, you might want to double check your local zeitgeist. The real youth of the country tend to poll a little to the right of the baby-boomers. But don't feel too badly--I'm sure that just like your generation, they'll get over it and see the light. Oh, wait. Nevermind.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at November 20, 2003 02:07 PM

The image of Munch's "The Scream" popped in my head when I read this quote

"If the youth of today maintain these positions on religious politics and abortion as the years go by, then the American public as a whole could become more conservative on these issues."

Posted by: C.M.Houts at November 20, 2003 02:18 PM

I don't read the NYT book reviews. But I do shop at Borders. When Hillary's new book came out, it was placed in a prominent place in the store. No big deal, huh? Where was it placed? Well, walk thru the double doors to get into the store and there it was. A large multi-tiered table thingie, several books tall, several books wide, back and front, Hillary everywhere! Just there, when you walk in - right there. Kinda like one of those perfume people that are gonna spray you whether you want it or not. I don't know whether I veered to the right to get around it cause that's what we learned in elementary school (stay to the right in the hallway, children) or if I was expressing my political beliefs. Once around it, I swear the smiling Hillarys on the back shelf growled at me.
Ok, maybe not....

Posted by: merle at November 20, 2003 02:31 PM

And it was determined that conservatism is a fad, by an unbiased objective standard. Fortunately, this is the only area of life in which there are easily determined, objective standards.

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at November 20, 2003 08:38 PM

Gee, and I figured that they placed Hillary's book prominently because it was a huge bestseller, and they were in the business of selling books. Live and learn.

Posted by: Michael at November 21, 2003 07:23 AM

Ok Michael,
You're right- it's a book store. Book stores sell books. But 'huge bestseller'? I beg to differ.

"Just two weeks after the highly touted release of Living History, the book has plummeted to ninth place on's bestseller list."

"A news story by Carl Limbacher of quotes renowned New York City literary agent Lucianne Goldberg as saying, "Those fabulous book sale figures racked up by Hillary Clinton's Living History may turn out to be mere publishing industry hype."

Maybe it's like at the grocery store where managers put their sale products out at the end of the aisle knowing that folks will buy it because it's prominently displayed. The more hype, the more sales. Is the store catering to the political leanings of its customers? Or is the store putting its own leanings out front, take it or leave it? Judging from the few copies of O'Reilly's books that were on the shelf, one could say it's both. Could be the store only ordered a few b/c it didn't agree with their beliefs or there were only a few left b/c people snapped them up.
Half full? Half empty? It's all in the way you look at it.

Posted by: merle at November 21, 2003 09:24 AM

Merle, Talon News is as reliable a news source as Buffalo, NY, is a tropic zone. Sean Hannity is an idiot, and I wouldn't believe Lucienne Goldberg about anything. Try this source:

BTW, 9th place on Amazon is huge sales, and doesn't reflect pre-orders. Wishing Hilary away doesn't work. Her book was a big bestseller, and is still at 247 on Amazon's chart. It's full, and the only place it doesn't look full is from right-wing ideological la-la land.

Posted by: Michael at November 21, 2003 11:11 AM

Isn't it great how the raw data increasingly available online is undermining the carefully tailored, not to say censored, information we're given?

I have to admit, when I finally understood that the NYTimes Bestseller list *completely* ignores bestsellers (because they are from "Christian" publishers), that really knocked my socks off. I couldn't believe how dishonest it was.

Now, increasingly, we can see the actual sales figures and find out for ourselves what people are really reading, not just what the censors oops, I mean, high-minded people at the NYT and other places, think we should be reading.

Posted by: Nancy2784 at November 21, 2003 11:44 AM

You just don't get it, do you Mikey?
"Lynch Book to Debut Atop N.Y. Times' List"
Gee, a soldier's story is on the top 10 list. And so fast,too. Golly. How many copies will I see when I go to Borders this afternoon? How many will greet me at the front door? Or will I have to track it down? hmmm, let's guess....
Alan Colmes is a liberal but I don't insult him, now do I?

Posted by: merle at November 21, 2003 11:52 AM

FWIW, I worked for Borders for a few years and can tell you that things like what gets displayed where and in what quantity are (1) tightly controlled; (2) decided "from the top" (that is, they will be the same in every store in the chain); and (3) negotiated well in advance with publishers. Doesn't mean there's no bias, obviously, but I suspect that it's more unconscious than otherwise — a matter of bad guesses about what's going to sell best.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak at November 21, 2003 12:49 PM

Michelle -

Same for me--I did my time at Barnes & Noble because being a TA doesn't pay the rent, and I vividly remember getting HUNDREDS of copies of OJ Simpson's magnum opus I Want To Tell You, along with instructions on where to display it (up front, natch!).

That was quite disturbing to me, but I did enjoy giving people purchasing the book a mildly reproving look and then listening to them justify the purchase to me. Yeah, I'm a killjoy. Sue me.

Bookstores do operate according to a best-seller mentality, but it's interesting that the best-sellers displayed most prominently are off the NY Times List, which obviously has synergy with the NYT Book Review...connect the dots. At B&N anyway, our bestsellers section was explicitly labeled NYT Bestsellers. And as pointed out above, kiosk placement and "preferential treatment" was dictated from the top down, usually well before the book even came out. I don't know if publishers are tipped off beforehand about the likelihood of getting a NYT review--that would be nice to know--or if they rely on other factors for advance buzz.

Ahh, brings back memories of being a meaningless cog. But we did get all the Starbucks coffee we could drink, so there was an upside.

BTW, I only shop at Borders or Amazon now. No, I am NOT bitter.

Posted by: BAW at November 21, 2003 01:40 PM

Lovely line from the insider.

My favorite departmental conversation stopper (art department) is saying "no, I don't read the Times. I buy the Wall Street Journal for the culture coverage and the wine column."

Posted by: Michael Tinkler at November 21, 2003 06:34 PM


My Borders was in a particularly difficult location: next to a sort of mall-ette (one big enough to host a Circuit City and a Trader Joe's and a Tower Records), just across the tracks from an Amtrak station, actually opening onto a Food Court with a couple dozen vendors in it, and a stone's throw from a large cinema.

Translation: Lots of traffic, lots of mess; much more browsing than actual buying, and a hell of a lot of stolen stuff.

I cottoned on to this only by degrees. I started in the music department — they needed someone with a faint clue about classical music — but when a position in periodicals opened up at a slight raise I took it. Well, that was fun. The only thing nastier than keeping track of the porn mags (I didn't have to search the mens' bathrooms, at least, but evidently they kept turning up there; and the 6-month inventories always found a Penthouse or two behind a row of books) was policing the computer gaming mags. Almost all of them had floppies or CD-ROMS in them, which were stolen almost instantly. Those that didn't were lifted, or dog-eared to death, or whatever. Need I say that the shelf where these things were stored was out of direct sightline from any Borders employee's regular station?

Not that it would have done much good. A large bookstore with three separate exits and such surroundings as that one was going to have a lot of stuff stolen from it ("shrink" was the insider jargon) whatever we did.

FWIW, nearly everyone I worked with there, up to and including store managers, was terrific; we were merely stuck with an impossible situation.

Oh, and the Borders best-seller list is also NYT.

Posted by: Michelle Dulak at November 21, 2003 09:02 PM

Merle, calling me "Mikey" is just more evidence that you are an ignorant, arrogant, and officious ass. Keep going: you'll wind up anchoring Fox News before you know it.

Posted by: Michael at November 24, 2003 08:44 PM