Bob Woodward's 'Fear' Is the Latest Example of How the Trump Bump Seems to Be Boosting Nonfiction Book Sales
Editor's note: This story originally published Sept. 6, 2018, and it has been updated to reflect the popularity of Fear: Trump in the White House on the date of its publication, Sept. 11, 2018.
Watergate journalist Bob Woodward’s latest book, Fear: Trump in the White House, out today, is already No. 5 on Amazon’s “Best Sellers of 2018 (So Far)” list. That's up from last week, when, after excerpts debuted, pre-orders of the book had propelled it to the No. 12 spot. Publisher Simon & Schuster has reportedly stated it is printing 1 million copies of the book to keep up with demand.
The book that tops Amazon's 2018 list is Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff, while No 6. is A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey. Across America (and the world), these titles have been in high demand with bookstores of all sizes and libraries as well.
Books about President Donald Trump may be all the rage, but they’re part of a broader trend in consumer reading habits: People are buying more nonfiction books.
In the first six months of 2018, print sales of adult nonfiction books rose 4 percent, while adult fiction declined 4 percent in sales, compared with the first half of 2017, NPD Bookscan reported in July.
Fire and Fury sold nearly 1 million print copies during that time, and A Higher Loyalty sold more than 577,000 copies. Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines (who appeared on the cover of Entrepreneur’s December 2016 issue), was the second most popular nonfiction book between January and June, selling roughly 676,000 copies.
Over the past five years, “nonfiction books for adult readers (a category which includes political books, memoirs, biographies, etc.) have experienced more growth than any other category,” a spokesperson from the Association of American Publishers told Entrepreneur in an email. The AAP tracks book sales by publishers to bookstores, third parties and online retailers, and has seen the number of adult nonfiction units sold increase by 29.5 percent since 2013.
On the consumer side, anecdotal reports paint the same picture. Nonfiction sales have increased in recent years, said Rebecca Fitting, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore, which has two locations in Brooklyn, N.Y.
“Traditionally there's a nonfiction/politics bump during the two years leading up to a major election, then after a few 'post-election dissection' books, it usually dies down,” Fitting told Entrepreneur. “This time it's been different though, with sales staying strong, and it feels like we are in uncharted territory.”
Fitting said Fire and Fury and A Higher Loyalty also sold numerous copies, and that Fear racked up pre-orders "at an incredible rate.” These are just some of the books focused on political and social issues that have been chart-toppers among booksellers. Books in the “Cultural Studies” and “Essays” categories have also sold strongly, Fitting said, “as people struggle to understand the world climate,” as have select dystopian novels, as Entertainment Weekly has also reported.
Then there are political children’s books. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo features a fictional gay bunny whose grandfather happens to be U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. This title, produced by the team at Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, ranks No. 2 on Amazon for the year so far.
Media attention, prominent subjects and backing by major publishing houses such as Simon & Schuster and Macmillan undoubtedly help titles soar. Libraries across the country reportedly saw unprecedented demand for Fire and Fury this past winter.
“Current events always have a strong effect on patron demand, particularly when specific titles receive a great deal of media coverage,” Angela Montefinise, senior director of public relations at The New York Public Library, told Entrepreneur. “For example, patron hold requests on Fear by Bob Woodward more than tripled in the 24 hours after passages of the book were first quoted in the news.”
She clarifies that this is true regardless of genre, and that the NYPL “can't say for sure how Trump is specifically impacting things.” This is despite the fact that some have drawn a correlation between Trump’s tweets about books reporting on his leadership style and subsequent sales boosts.
A word of caution to any author thinking of teasing too many excerpts or making their work available for free, however:
“Omarosa [Manigault Newman]'s book [Unhinged] has been selling, but not nearly as strongly as the others,” Fitting said. “I think so much got revealed in her media coverage that people felt they got enough of her story, and it leaves people feeling they don't need to read the book.”