Skip to comments.Can Liberals Publish Conservative Books?
Posted on 06/03/2003 5:11:08 PM PDT by Richard Poe
A MOMENT OF SILENCE, please. My publisher no longer exists.
As of Sunday, June 1, 2003, the entity once known as Prima Publishing of Roseville, California was demolished. Some parts were dismembered, others dissolved, still others renamed and relocated. To whatever extent Prima still existed last week, as a discreet and recognizable entity, it no longer does.
"So what?" some readers may ask. Most have probably never heard of the company, nor of its founder Ben Dominitz.
Yet, Prima produced many bestsellers, not a few of which I wrote. More importantly, Prima was one of a handful of publishing houses in America launched and run by a politically conservative entrepreneur. Primas rise and fall offers lessons to everyone who cares about the printed page. Its story casts light on one of the most vexing riddles facing American letters today: Can liberals publish conservative books?
Champagne glasses are clinking in Manhattan boardrooms today. Accountants are rubbing their hands with glee. A new day has dawned in New York publishing. A taboo has been lifted. Liberal publishers can now make money selling conservative books.
With tiny rightwing houses such as Regnery and WND Books cranking out mega-hits month after month it was only a matter of time before major New York houses swallowed their pride, held their noses and did the unthinkable; tried to publish some conservative books of their own.
"The success of Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and other conservative authors has led many publishers to turn more to the right
" notes the Associated Press. New York publishing giants Random House and Penguin have taken the lead, launching new imprints that will specialize in publishing conservative titles.
The Coulter Factor
Bestselling author Ann Coulter helped spark the new movement. It began with her harrowing ordeal trying to publish Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right.
Leftist editors tried to strangle Slander in its cradle. When Coulters editor died of cancer, HarperCollins deep-sixed the book. Coulters agent shopped it around for two months, getting rejection after rejection.
"This book does not move the national dialogue forward," sniffed one Doubleday editor.
"Thats funny," Coulter responded. "I thought book publishers made money on the basis of how many books they sold."
Crown Publishing a division of Random House finally picked it up. With over 400,000 copies sold, Slander spent 20 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list in 2002 eight weeks straight in the number one position.
"The American people like me; editors dont
" Coulter remarked to The New York Observer in August 2002. "If I were Rupert Murdoch, I think Id fire some of the people at HarperCollins for turning down the No. 1 best-selling book of the summer for purely ideological reasons."
I dont know whether Murdoch ever took Coulters advice and fired those HarperCollins editors. However, one publishing executive did give ear to Miss Coulter. He was Steve Ross, head of Random Houses Crown Publishing Group the man who rescued Slander from oblivion.
Coulter argued in Slander that New York publishing houses were turning down millions of dollars in conservative book sales. Ross was forced to agree. In an April 26 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Ross said:
"Ann and I began talking while I was working with her on 'Slander,' which posits the existence of a liberal slant so organic to so many of our American institutions that we don't even recognize it as such. In working with her and thinking about the meticulous way she made her case, I came to recognize that what she was saying is fundamentally true with regard to book publishing.
"Most, if not all, of my peers are very liberal. I have come to believe that most trade publishers see it as their job to publish books for people of similar inclination. The result is an enormous disparity between the number of liberal and conservative books published. Most mainstream houses don't publish any conservative titles at all."
Ross himself is a liberal. But this month, he will launch Crown Forum, an imprint dedicated exclusively to publishing conservative authors. It will kick off with Ann Coulters latest offering, Treason: Liberal Treachery From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism. Conservative pundits Robert Novak and Michael Medved have reportedly signed on to write Crown Forum books.
"We publishers inhabit a very culturally sheltered island called Manhattan," Ross told the LA Times. "But until we declare ourselves a sovereign state, I think we should publish for the whole country. It's our job, in other words, to publish what people want to read."
The Impossible Dream
An old adage holds that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Perhaps the conservative fever now sweeping Manhattan is just a mirage.
On the surface, though, it looks tempting. No longer will rightwing scribes journey to provincial outposts in Dallas, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to beg $5,000 advances from threadbare houses such as Spence Publishing; Encounter Books and Regnery Publishing.
Now we will huddle with literary agents in the King Cole Bar and other swank Manhattan venues, sipping martinis, dodging paparazzi, dropping witty bons mots to gossip columnists via cellphone, and plotting how to squeeze six-figure advances from acquisition editors. At least, so we imagine.
But will it work? Can liberal publishers really bring themselves to nurture conservative talent? Can they resist the temptation to censor, castrate, water down and otherwise abuse conservative authors?
That remains to be seen.
Remember The Free Press
Before yielding too readily to the wooing of our liberal benefactors, careful authors might wish to ponder the fate of The Free Press.
In the early 90s, little Regnery had not yet made its name with such Clinton-bashing blockbusters as Gary Aldrichs Unlimited Access (1996) or Ann Coulters High Crimes and Misdemeanors (1998). Serious conservative writers in those days had only one place to go; The Free Press, then a division of Macmillan.
Its publisher Erwin A. Glikes (pronounced GLICK-ess) was a Belgian-born Jew who had fled Hitler with his parents. He turned against the Left after witnessing the violent protests at Columbia University during the 60s.
A Broken Heart
"Glikes was a powerful voice," says Prima founder Ben Dominitz. "He was trenchant and tough, a real mensch, a tough person who stood for what he believed in."
Glikes had to be tough to protect his fiefdom from corporate meddling. He provided a haven for conservative authors ranging from George Will and Robert Bork to Francis Fukuyama, Dinesh DSouza and David Horowitz.
But Glikes died in 1994 some say of a broken heart.
Simon & Schuster bought The Free Press that year. Glikes did not gel with the new regime. He left for another job but succumbed to a heart attack, quite suddenly, at age 56. Regarding Glikes unhappy departure and sudden death, David Horowitz comments, "Probably they were related."
The Free Press turned liberal soon after. Conservative publishing died in New York.
And so the question remains: can liberals publish conservative books? That depends. It worked for The Free Press as long as Erwin Glikes stood in the breach, fighting off interference from the corporate suits. When Glikes left, the suits moved in for the kill.
"The person running the imprint must have complete freedom," says Ben Dominitz. "I think it can be done only when it is under people with a conservative ideology."
Dominitz should know. He is one of the maverick entrepreneurs who built conservative publishing from the ground floor. Unlike the liberals who haunt Manhattan high rises, Dominitz journeyed deep into Americas heartland and drank of her soul. From his American odyssey, a great idea and a great company arose.
Dominitz came to New York from Israel, with his family, at age 13, unable to speak English. He studied violin at the prestigious Juilliard School. But Dominitz realized early that music would not pay the bills. He would need wealth to enjoy artistic freedom.
The Amway Connection
At age 23, Dominitz became an independent sales representative for Amway Corporation. Like all so-called network marketing firms, Amway allows sales reps to recruit other sales reps and to earn commissions from the sales of their recruits. Dominitz built a large "downline" or sales organization with Amway, generating a residual income that continues paying out to this day, years after Dominitzs "retirement" from the Amway business.
The money was good, but more important to Dominitz was the culture of patriotism, family values and self-improvement that Amway fostered in its sales force. At pep rallies festooned with red, white and blue, young Dominitz heard lectures from Amways billionaire co-founders Jay Van Andel and Rich DeVos, extolling Americas free enterprise system.
"I loved the American idea of self-improvement," says Dominitz, who immersed himself in self-help tomes such as Napoleon Hills Think and Grow Rich.
Through Amway, Dominitz came to know and love the American heartland. He sold Amway wherever he went. "I remember in Bloomington, Indiana, explaining the marketing plan in peoples trailers, who worked at the TV appliance factory," he says. "They were wonderful people, trusting and open. I came to love them. Some of the best people in America come from the mid-West. I married a mid-Western girl."
Meeting of the Minds
Ben and Nancy Dominitz founded Prima Publishing in 1984 with a $20,000 loan. The company grew quickly. By 2000, annual sales were $100 million and the company published 300 new titles that year.
Prima made its millions from cook books, how-to books and strategy guides for video and computer games. But Dominitz harbored a deep interest in conservative and libertarian politics a market he believed the mainstream book industry neglected.
The decline and fall of The Free Press opened a gaping hole in the market that Dominitz yearned to fill. That same year, 1994, a young man named Steve Martin started work as a production editor at Prima. Martin soon rose to managing editor. Like Dominitz, he was conservative. "Ben quickly realized that I had an ideological side," Martin recalls. "He wanted to create a Free Press-like imprint."
The two men started talking. "Steve Martin was a brilliant gentleman who shared my political views," recalls Dominitz. "We began to talk about it, to shape it." Out of their conversations grew Prima Forum a conservative imprint launched in 1996.
"An Exciting Time"
"Ben created an atmosphere where you could do almost anything you felt you were capable of doing," says Martin, who served as Prima Forums publisher from 1996 to 2001. "He enabled me to do things that I never thought I could do, publishing books that really stirred things up."
Prima Forum published heavyweights such as William F. Buckley, Jr., David Horowitz, Peter Collier and Paul Craig Roberts, but also promoted new talent. Among the rising stars Forum introduced were Patrick Glynn (God the Evidence); Thomas J. DiLorenzo (The Real Lincoln); and Tammy Bruce (The New Thought Police and The Death of Right and Wrong).
When independent counsel Kenneth Starr posted his findings online in 1998, Prima Forum hit the bookstores with a bound edition of The Starr Report days before any competitors. "We downloaded it on a Friday afternoon. We sent it to the printer that night, and bound books were coming out Monday," recalls Martin. "It hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list the next week. We had The New York Times calling. A local station sent a film crew out. That was a very exciting time."
The Liberals Cometh
The excitement soon came to an end, however.
Dominitz was now competing with the big boys. His Prima Games division had taken about 50 percent of the U.S. market for computer and video game strategy guides. That was too much for Big Media to ignore. They offered Dominitz a deal he couldnt refuse. Random House a division of the German media giant Bertelsmann acquired Prima in April 2001.
I will never forget receiving a call from Steve Martin in May 2001, telling me that he was leaving the company. Steve had taken a job at an academic publishing firm, where he is now managing editor. "What will happen to Prima Forum?" I asked. "Will Random House publish conservative books?"
I had just written a book called The Seven Myths of Gun Control. Among other things, Seven Myths exposed the anti-gun movement as part of a larger ideological war against men and masculinity, a movement dominated by far-left feminists for whom gun control symbolized the fulfillment of repressed castration fantasies.
Steve assured me that Seven Myths was safely in the production pipeline. It would definitely be published. However, Random House executives had told Steve that they had no interest in conservative publishing. Steve saw little hope that Prima Forum would survive.
A Close Call
Ben Dominitz recalls sitting in a meeting around that time with a high-placed Random House executive and beseeching him to keep Prima Forum alive. "This is the most exciting part of Prima," Dominitz told the man. As an example, Dominitz mentioned an upcoming title, The Real Lincoln by Thomas diLorenzo.
"He was very uncomfortable," Dominitz recalls. "And he said, `You know, this book is not going to sell more than 5,000 copies and the fact is Im extremely liberal and very much against ideas like this. Why would I want to publish it? The book went on to sell 50 or 60,000 copies."
Publishers Weekly reports that Prima Forum might have died, had it not been for the sudden success of a single book. When it was first released in 1999, Yossef Bodanskys Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America sold only 10,000 copies in hardcover. Then came the 9-11 attacks. All of a sudden, the whole country was scouring bookstores for information on Osama bin Laden.
Prima Forum produced a paperback version of Bodanskys book in one week. It sold nearly 270,000 copies and spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. "The decision [to publish Bin Laden in paperback] was made for us," says Alice Feinstein who headed Prima during the transition to Random House management. Feinstein told Publishers Weekly in November 2001 that she was going to take a "serious look at growing Forum."
Prima Forum was saved by the skin of its teeth.
The Free Market
In hindsight, the worries of those days seem overblown. Seven Myths was published without a hitch. It sold well in hardcover, and the paperback is scheduled for release on August 26, 2003.
More importantly, thanks to Ann Coulter and Steve Ross, Prima Forum lives on, under the new name of Crown Forum.
As for Ben Dominitz, he has retired a rich man at age 53. Those who know him cannot imagine that Dominitz will wait long before tackling some new entrepreneurial challenge. Yet, for now, he busies himself with philanthropy, playing his violin and enjoying the quiet satisfaction of knowing that his dream of a conservative imprint will live on in Crown Forum.
"Its the triumph of the marketplace ," says Dominitz. "The dollar speaks. Thats the beauty of capitalism."
Steve Martin concurs. "Steve Rosss job is not to be a liberal, but to make money for Crown," he says. "This is what conservatives always wanted to have happen, for the marketplace to take over."
On February 25, 2003, the Crown Publishing Group announced that it was shutting down Prima Lifestyle and laying off 20 employees. The Prima Games division would continue under the Random House Information Group. Forum would be moved to New York. With these changes, scheduled for June 1, the company that Ben Dominitz created would no longer exist, except in scattered pieces.
Dominitz sheds no tears for the breakup of Prima. "Once we sold the company, it was no longer the same Prima. It was a different company, a part of Random House, for better or worse. If I mourned it, I mourned it awhile ago."
Dominitz is right. Prima has not been Prima for a very long time. A company is not a building, nor a certificate of incorporation, nor a line of products, nor even a team of people. It is an idea in the mind of its founder. When that idea flickers out, so does the company.
Whither Conservative Books?
What of the future?
Crown Forum and other liberal-owned conservative imprints can succeed if they learn the lesson of The Free Press. They must hire people like Erwin Glikes strong leaders, of conservative views, who will protect their writers and stand their ground against corporate meddling.
Should they opt instead for the more typical route of hiring talented but inexperienced young people to run these imprints kids whom they can easily manipulate and order about I fear they will fail. With no Erwin Glikes to stop them, the suits will do what suits do best. They will meddle, micromanage, second-guess and kill the best projects and best ideas. They will drive off talent and run the imprint into the ground.
As for the existing conservative houses Regnery; Spence; Encounter Books; WND Books, NewsMax.com and the rest if they wish to survive, says Steve Martin, they must outmaneuver the New York houses, much as the nimble British warships outmaneuvered the lumbering galleons of the Spanish Armada.
"Crown can pay the Ann Coulters of this world a lot of money," says Martin. "The small houses can never compete on advances. They have to be smarter than Crown. They have to do what we did at Prima Forum find new talent. Whos out there writing? Whos writing interesting things on the Internet? You have to keep your fingertips on the pulse of the marketplace."
Richard Poe is a New York Times bestselling author and cyberjournalist. His book The Seven Myths of Gun Control is due out in paperback in August 2003. Poes forthcoming book, The New Underground: How Conservatives Conquered the Internet will be available soon.
What conservative writers impress you? And which ones do not?
It's hard to believe that it will actually work over the long haul.
Some of the best conservative books are written by extreme leftists. Robert McNamara's In Retrospect establish him as a leftist blowhard subversive more who sabotaged the Viet Nam war more authoritatively than any conservative writer could have done.
Reagan wrote many of os best speechs. I knew the woman at the White House who typed them up using the special shorthand he liked.
In what respect does that differ from what goes on now? I don't recall ever seeing advertising for any conservative books.
I am wondering about publishing conservative fiction? A quick example. Clancy (I am no fan of his writing, but a big fan of his success) simply could not get The Hunt For Red October published in New York, and eventually convinced the tiny Naval Institute Press to take a flyer with their first work of fiction.
Another route to try is that taken by John Ross, author of Unintended Consequences. He has sold about 60,000 massive hardbacks through Accurate Press, a tiny publisher of technical gun booklets.
I have written a second amendment novel set in the near future, "Enemies Foreign and Domestic," which I am self-publishing and selling only via the internet and gun magazine ads. I don't have the years to spend pleading my case with the anti-gun liberals on 5th Avenue.
Are any of the conservative publishing houses you have listed considering branching into conservative fiction? I wild note the success of the extremely badly written "Left Behind" series within the Christian conservative demographic. There is a market out there starving for good conservative fiction!
A very well written second amendment novel could also be a great success, harking back to Clancy, and his unpublishable (in New York) pro-military Hunt For Red October.
How many books have Chris Lehane (SP) and Tom Clancy sold?