On another level, however, the show was oh-so-typical: O’Reilly was seeking to sell his books to his millions of viewers. “Become a BillOReilly.com Premium Member, and get any one of my books free of charge including ‘Old School: Life in the Sane Lane’ and ‘Killing the Rising Sun,'” said O’Reilly. “‘Old School,’ No. 1; ‘Rising Sun,’ No. 3 — we thank you all for that.” And during the show’s mail segment, O’Reilly read a note from Donna Ross of Lexington, Tenn. “Recently I was vacationing in Mexico and reading ‘Killing the Rising Sun’; the pool chairs were full of people doing the same thing,” read the letter. “Muy bien!” said O’Reilly. “That’s great to hear, Donna. Thank you. I hope you had a nice time.”
Though cable news hosts are rarely shy about promoting their books, O’Reilly was less shy than most, or all. Don’t take the Erik Wemple Blog’s word, however. “Bill O’Reilly is a book salesman with a TV show,” said the late Roger Ailes, who founded Fox News.
The assessment from Ailes may have been an understatement, as O’Reilly couldn’t seem to hack life without a bestseller of which to boast. There’s the entire “Killing” series written with Martin Dugard — Lincoln, Kennedy, Jesus, Patton, Reagan, the Rising Sun, England (due out in September) — plus a whole slew of commentary books on American politics, kids and the author’s one area of expertise — himself. Have a look for yourself.
If the bestseller lists mistreated an O’Reilly opus, he complained about it. “It’s impossible for ‘The Gene’ to have sold more copies than ‘Legends & Lies: The Patriots.’ Impossible. Therefore, the New York Times best seller list is not an honest barometer of book sales,” ripped O’Reilly in June 2016. He noted that he’d been “fortunate enough to have 20 books on the New York Times best seller list. 11 of them hit number one.”
To explain the data a bit: The weekly sales figures come from NPD Book/NPD BookScan, which compiles “actual print sales reported … by the top 85% of the U.S. Trade Book Retailers,” according to a company official. As for the numbers on “Killing the Rising Sun,” a Nexis search reveals that April 14 was the last edition of “The O’Reilly Factor” — it was guest-hosted by Greg Gutfeld — to plug “Killing the Rising Sun.” For that week, according to NPD BookScan, “Killing the Rising Sun” sold 7,300 copies. The next week, after the promotions on “The Factor” ended? 4,800 copies, and downhill from there.
Of course, “Killing the Rising Sun” was published in September 2016, so a certain amount of falloff was inevitable in the following spring. O’Reilly’s freakish productivity, thankfully, provides a point of comparison. Here is a look at the spring 2016 sales for “Killing Reagan,” a book that was published in September 2015.
That trajectory is flatter.
That’s a tragic trajectory.
Kristen McLean, executive director of business development at NPD Book, examined the O’Reilly data. Asked about the “Old School” trend, McLean told this blog, “the firing drove the book right into the ground, in my opinion” — though she noted that the starting sales for “Old School” weren’t nearly as high as the “Killing” titles. Regarding the fortunes of “Killing the Rising Sun,” McLean notes a “distinct flattening” in the sales following O’Reilly’s April 19 firing. “Whether that is driven by consumer behavior, or retailer behavior is an open question,” she points out. Nor can we determine how much of the decline in O’Reilly sales stem from his broader reputation problems vs. the disappearance of the book plugs on Fox News.
The numbers, anyhow, should give some leverage to the executives at Fox News. As this blog has noted, the network binds its talent into some killer contractual book-related obligations. Here’s a summary borrowed from a previous post:
• You can’t write a book at all if Fox News determines that a book isn’t in the “best interest” of Fox News;• You must “first” seek the network’s approval before even negotiating a book deal — and you have to give HarperCollins a shot at bidding on it;• Fox News gets 10 percent of net profits after the advance is earned out;• You have to submit a written outline of the book, including the title, before passing it along to the publisher;• You are “required to submit to Fox News in writing a schedule for the days and times when [you] will write and otherwise work on the book.”
It’s unclear if those requirements applied to O’Reilly.
Attempts to secure comment from O’Reilly and publisher Henry Holt have been unsuccessful.