November 18, 2010

Selling George Bush’s book as an act of protest


Green Apple Books in San Francisco

Green Apple Books in San Francisco

You don’t have to walk into too many bookstores to start wondering if all the hundreds of thousands of copies of George Bush‘ memoir reportedly being sold are all ebooks and bulk sales to fascist organizations — most indie bookstores, and even a lot of the chains, seem to have taken it in twos and threes at best. It’s nowhere to be seen in a few stores here in New York. Yeah, yeah, that could be because this is lefty-whack-job central — the reason many of us live here — but it could also be because, hell, any poll will tell you the guy’s widely considered the least popular president we’ve ever had. And for a memoir writer, it’s not like he’s known for telling the truth.

But it’s the stores that took the twos and threes that I think tell the story of American bookselling: Like most Americans, most booksellers think Bush was something more murderous than a bumbling clown. So why stock his book at all? They’re not going to make much off just two or three books, so it’s not about the money. It must be because they feel having at least a copy or two of this book on hand is important because of issues of fairness and currency, and so as not to offend a right-wing-whack-job should one walk in. It’s part of being a good bookseller, in other words. (Also — have you ever noticed this? — booksellers are remarkably polite people.)

And yet you do get the sense it’s difficult for them. Go ahead — ask your local indie bookseller if he’s happy about selling this one. Or if they were happy about selling Sarah Palin‘s book. Or Condi‘s. And so on.

Well, the folks at Green Apple Books in San Francisco seem to have come up with the perfect way to live up to the booksellers code and not feel so squeamish about it. The great indie newsletter Shelf Awareness points us to a report in the SF Weekly that says Green Apple “has deemed that 100 percent of the profit on every copy it sells of Decision Points will go to the nearby San Francisco VA Hospital.”

Co-owner Kevin Ryan tells the paper the store wanted to “make a political statement about a book but still offer it to customers.”

It’s not the first time the store has done this, either — last year it donated the profits from its sales of Sarah Palin’s Going Rogue to the Alaska Wildlife Alliance. Says Ryan, “We ended up selling like 10 or 12 copies. That’s eight or 10 more than we would have sold.”

For the Bush book, Ryan has also ordered only 12 copies. As the report notes,

At $14 of profit a book, that’s a maximum of $168 for the VA — unless, of course, legions of right-wing devotees storm the bookstore and demand a re-order. But even if Bush polls as poorly in Green Apple as he did in San Francisco in general, Ryan confirms he’d be embarrassed to send the hospital a check for 14 bucks. “I’m sure we’ll round it up to the nearest 50 or 100 bucks.”

In short, as Ryan puts it, “Every bookstore has the right to not sell a book. But that’s not us.”

The shelf-talker for Sarah Palin's book at Green Apple Books in San Francisco

The shelf-talker for Sarah Palin's book at Green Apple Books

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House.