Monday, August 13, 2007

Good, Bad or Indifferent

A clever publicist will declare that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Any publicity is good; it is consumer indifference that is bad. In which case, Conrad Black can take heart on the eve of his next book's release.

While his trial for fraud, racketeering and tax evasion was chugging along, Mr. Black kept himself occupied by writing a biography of Richard Nixon. There is no debate as to the quality of the writer's research, and he has a successful biography of Franklin Roosevelt on his authorial resume. What has his publisher worried is the fact that the new book will be released just in time for Mr. Black's sentencing.

PublicAffairs Books had set the release date so that it fell well after the conviction date, but who knew that the sentencing would be set in November? They are now asking themselves if the negative publicity will hurt or help book sales.

Will people buy because they are interested in a well-crafted biography of Richard Nixon, or will they buy because they want to see how much of Conrad Black the author superimposed on the former President? Either one is good, as it involves sales. On the other hand, will people shun the 1200 page tome because the author is a convicted felon, no matter how good a book it might be? Such buyer indifference could severely hurt the bottom line.

The chances of sending author Conrad Black on a book tour are highly limited, as Judge Amy St. Eve has restricted his movements to Chicago or Florida. That may be just as well, since the book tour for the FDR biography took place shortly after Mr. Black was sacked from the board of Hollinger for the very crimes of which he was recently convicted. It was not a pretty sight, with hordes of media descending to question the media baron, asking unpleasant questions. This time around, it could only be worse. PublicAffairs Books would like their author to be asked about his book so that he can shill it, and they would not like the public to be continuously reminded that their author is a convicted felon about to undergo a long string of appeals so that he can stay out of prison.

Look for book reviewers to get a bug put into their ear. Expect the reviews to make mention of similarities between Conrad Black's downfall and Richard Nixon's fatal flaws. The biography will be positioned carefully, to imply that the author was writing about what he knows, and that would be the psyche of a liar and a thief. The publicists will, of course, make lemonade from the lemons handed them.

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