President Donald Trump may not be much of a reader, but he’s been a gift to book publishers.
Sales of political books are up 25% year to date, according to NPD Group, powered by such headline-grabbing best-sellers as James Comey’s “A Higher Loyalty,” Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” and Omarosa Manigault Newman’s “Unhinged.” These novels paint a portrait of a White House in turmoil, but some are pro-Trump tomes, such as “Liars, Leakers, and Liberals,” a fiery defense of the 45th president from Fox News’ Judge Jeanine Pirro.
“There’s a lot going on in the cultural zeitgeist, and that’s translating into increased book sales,” said Kristen McLean, executive director of business development at NPD. “People want to understand what’s going on right now.”
The literary boom is somewhat ironic. Although Trump is a best-selling author of (ghostwritten) books such as “The Art of the Deal,” he’s said he doesn’t care much for reading. He is said to like short memos with lots of bullets. Whereas George W. Bush and Barack Obama used to publish summer reading lists, Trump seems to spend most of his R&R time on the golf course at one of his clubs or watching Fox News.
Non-fiction sales, particularly of political and self-help books, have helped lift a publishing industry at a time when the popularity of fiction is in decline. Sales volume of print books rose 2% in the first half of 2018, with adult non-fiction print book sales jumping 4% to 136 million units, while fiction print sales declined 4% to 63 million units. “Fire and Fury,” Wolff’s scathing look at the president, and “A Higher Loyalty,” a memoir of former FBI chief Comey, sold the first and third most copies of any book during that period, respectively.
At the moment, one book is flying off shelves. That’s Bob Woodward’s “Fear: Trump in the White House,” which had the highest first-week sales of any book in Simon & Schuster’s nearly 100-year history, moving 1.1 million copies. The legendary investigative journalist has inspired Twitter rants from Trump after reporting that White House aides have worked to undermine the president in order to prevent him from imperiling national security. Lexi Beach, the owner of Astoria Bookshop in Queens, said “Fear” sold out immediately, and half of the replacement shipment she ordered is already reserved for customers eager to dig into Woodward’s depiction of an unhinged commander-in-chief.
But “Fear” isn’t an anomaly. Beach said when she first opened Astoria Bookshop five years ago, there wasn’t much demand for books about Beltway drama. That changed with the 2016 election.
“That shifted things,” Beach said. “Particularly after Trump won, we had a lot more demand for books about activism and political engagement.”
Christine Onorati, the owner of Word, a bookstore with branches in Greenpoint and Jersey City, said political titles have always sold well at her shop. She has noticed a spike in interest surrounding historical titles, particularly books about the World War II era and Richard Nixon, another scandal-plagued president.
“People really want to understand how we got here,” Onorati said. “They’re putting a new set of eyes on history. The past has become a little more relevant.”
Of course, not even trade wars, border walls, and Russian collusion can trump the popularity of some cultural phenomenons.
“Nothing’s outselling ‘Crazy Rich Asians,'” Beach said. “That’s the book I can’t keep in stock.”