“Whichever sales estimate you accept—under what scenario does Simon & Schuster make back [its reported] $14 million advance from Hillary [Clinton’s] book?” asked the Washington Examiner’s Byron York the other day.
His implication was, probably never. Let’s do some back-of-the-envelope math and see if that’s the case.
Madame Secretary Senator First Lady Clinton’s new book about her four years as head of the State Department, Hard Choices, sells for $35 a pop in hardcover. Assume her agent negotiated a primo royalty of 20 percent for the entire run, with no graduated rates. That works out to a maximum payout to her of $7 a copy.
At that rate, the book will make its advance back if it sells 2 million hardcover copies.
Simon & Schuster paid so much for this book because her 2003 book Living History was a megabestseller. The publisher cleared more than a million copies that year. The book easily made back its $8 million advance.
Tucker Carlson pledged on CNN to eat “my shoes and my tie” on the air if her sales broke a million. When that happened, she appeared on his show with a shoe-shaped chocolate cake to gloat.
He won’t be eating shoe or cake this time. The reported sales of Hard Choices have so far been solid but not spectacular, though these are relative terms. According to the Washington Post, it sold about 86,000 copies in its first week of release.
Most authors would be over the moon if they cleared 86,000 copies in a week of a boring $35 doorstopper, but Ms. Clinton is a special case. By the end of the first week hawking Living History, she had moved 600,000 copies, reports the Post. (Sarah Palin did slightly better, with 700,000 copies in the first week for Going Rogue.)
Sales of Hard Choices could pick up, but the bestselling segment of the book industry is a bit like the movie industry, where opening weekend is all important for domestic box office. Tremendous amounts of money are spent promoting the bankable literary hits, because that’s where something like 90 percent of the industry’s revenue comes from.
Miss on one of those projected bestsellers and there go your quarterly profits, your bonuses, your contracts for those smaller authors you, the publisher, wanted to take a chance on.
Short term, partisans can spin the sales however they want. They’re not the ones with skin in the game. Simon & Schuster’s bean counters simply cannot be happy that they paid $6 million more for this book than for the last one only to watch heavily discounted sales trickle in.
Getting back to York’s question, given what we know of Hillary’s book sales, I can think of only one scenario in which she earns back that book advance at this point. She’ll need to run for the Democratic nomination and the presidency, and win.