By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Alan Greenspan has a book deal, and it has put him once again in rarefied financial company.
No dollar amounts were released by Penguin Press, which announced the acquisition of the Greenspan book yesterday. But industry observers pegged the former Federal Reserve Board chairman's advance at more than $8 million and suggested it was high enough to be topped, in the nonfiction category, only by the reported $12 million paid for Bill Clinton's "My Life."
Penguin executives emphasized that the book, scheduled for publication in 2007, would present Greenspan's unvarnished opinions for the first time.
"Alan Greenspan is absolutely a unique individual on the world stage," said Penguin Press Publisher and President Ann Godoff, who acquired the book. "He's made history in this country -- and not spoken."
"This is a person who saw it from the inside and who can speak, finally, after all these years," said Godoff's boss, Susan Petersen Kennedy, president of Penguin Group (USA). Godoff and Kennedy said the book would cover not only Greenspan's remarkable 18 years at the Fed but also his views of the world's economic future.
The book was sold at an auction that lasted four days. Greenspan was represented by Washington attorney Robert Barnett, who said he hadn't seen so much enthusiasm on the part of publishers since negotiating mega-deals with Alfred A. Knopf for "My Life" and with Simon & Schuster for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's "Living History," which had a reported $8 million advance.
For a publisher to commit so much money to a book is always a gamble, though the Clinton books proved rewarding ones. Former president Clinton's book "was an enormously profitable enterprise on many levels," said Paul Bogaards, publicity director for Knopf, who said it sold more than 2 million copies in hardcover.
Both Clinton books more than earned back their advances and did well overseas.
Some agents and publishing executives expressed skepticism yesterday that Greenspan could move books as the Clintons did. Said one, who asked not to be named for fear of poisoning relationships with those involved: "It's a business book that has to sell like a celebrity book. I wish them well."
Peter Osnos, founder of publishing house PublicAffairs, disagreed. "Alan Greenspan has entered into a domain that few public figures do," Osnos said. "He's both formidable and cuddly -- an unusual combination."
Overseas sales may be crucial to the project's success, as they were for the Clinton books. And although it's not clear that cuddly will do the trick worldwide, Greenspan has planned a few chapters that could help.
"He will be doing a special chapter for the Far East and a special chapter for England and Europe," Penguin's Kennedy said.
Greenspan, who turned 80 on Monday, declined through a spokesman to comment yesterday.
He began his tenure at the Federal Reserve in 1987 and served under presidents of both parties, retiring with a reputation for indispensability that remained largely intact. The New Yorker recently called him "the most skillful bureaucratic survivor the nation's capital has seen since J. Edgar Hoover."
Part of his survivor's skill involved an understandable reluctance to take hard-and-fast public positions. "Mr. Greenspan spoke with such masterful vagueness that he never narrowed his options," as a recent Washington Post editorial noted.
His publishers believe he's ready to jettison that vagueness.
"This is a very smart man who has determined that he's going to talk now," Kennedy said, "and he very much wants to be understood by a large number of people."