Publishing 2006: Lincoln books

In the post introducing this series, I had said that Lincoln books in 2006 were a washout. Let's start with what should have been the sales leader, Goodwin's Team of Rivals.

This Simon & Schuster title came out at the end of 2005 and racked up an Ingram sales total of 2,236 in the remainder of the year. If we apply the industry rule of thumb to that number (multiply by six), it indicates over 13,400. It is hard to compare partial data, so the more interesting Ingram number is the complete year's sale for 2006: 1,535. Applying the Ingram factor to the total for 2005 and 2006, we surmise that through Dec. 31, 2006 this title sold under 25,000 copies. If a blockbuster was anticipated - and remember, Hollywood bought the rights to this title sight unseen - an initial press run of 50,000 would have been conservative. Publishing and other entertainment industries do not forgive failure on this scale.

A comparable effect is seen in David Hackett Fischer's Washington's Crossing: a major author of historical narrative writing for the same audience as Goodwin racked up only 2,858 sales for that title through Ingram in 2005 after a 2004 debut. The book then collapsed to a level of 306 sold in 2006. However, Fischer is no Goodwin in terms of marquee value and therefore expectations would have been lower.

Getting back to Lincoln books, I was likewise surprised at the steep decline in sales in Tripp's Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln. Debuting in January 2005, it sold 1,686 copies through Ingram that year; last year just 103 sold through the same channels.

Garry Wills' Lincoln at Gettysburg, an essay intended for cafe society, was released in paperback in 1993 and seems to have found its plateau with 295 Ingram sales last year. David Donald's Lincoln came out three years later in paperback is is a near place with 386 copies sold last year through this same wholesaler.

One very bright spot in trade press Linconology comes from Gabor Boritt's Gettysburg Gospel which debuted in November and sold 4,033 through Ingram between then and then end of the year. The number Ingram sold between Jan. 1 and today (Feb. 2) totals 1,387. That's well north of 32,000 copies, using the factor-six rule of thumb. I would be very surprised if Simon & Schuster did a 50,000 copy first run - much less anything more than the minimum marketing - on a Gabor Boritt title, so they must be very pleased.

This had to be the minimum they expected from Goodwin and Boritt's sales are just getting started.

(See here for help with jargon.)