Levi Johnston and Sarah Palin Book Debuts Bomb

Levi Johnston Deer in the Headlights Book Cover - P 2011

Levi Johnston Deer in the Headlights Book Cover - P 2011

First week sales were tepid for both "Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs" and "The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin." Is public interest in the Wasilla family drama on the wane?

Despite massive publicity, two new books chronicling the Sarah Palin soap opera—The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin by veteran political writer Joe McGinnis and Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs by Bristol Palin baby daddy Levi Johnston—have gotten a lukewarm response from the buying public since their release on Tuesday. Hard sales numbers will not be available for a week but the rankings on Amazon and Barnes & Noble provide a good indication of consumer interest. The Rogue is ranked in the fifties on both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Deer in the Headlights is hovering in the seven hundreds on Amazon and in the two hundreds on Barnes & Noble. Both books had weak pre-sale numbers as well with The Rogue in the high hundreds and Deer in the Headlights in the high thousands.

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The Rogue is the controversial book that alleges Palin had a one night stand with a college basketball player while working as a sports reporter, snorted cocaine, and shirked her work as governor to shop. Deer in the Headlights is Johnston’s version of his relationship with Palin in which he contradicts her account of how she lost her virginity and claims she wanted to have a baby because she was jealous of that her mother’s late-in-life pregnancy with Trip. He also paints an unflattering picture of the Palin marriage, asserting, for example, that Todd and Sarah rarely spent the night together in the same bed.

The Rogue was the beneficiary of a massive rollout campaign.  Author Joe McGinnis promoted it on the Today Show and The View.  He partnered with Garry Trudeau in a first-of-its-kind deal to excerpt the book Doonesbury.  The Rogue was also the subject of featured reviews in The New York Times, Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times.  The only other fall book to get a comparable rollout was Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy which debuted at number one on Amazon.  Another political book, Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, about the early days of Obama White House, arrived in bookstores on the same day as McGinnis with much less fanfare but has already risen to fifth on Amazon. Relative to the publicity The Rogue's sales numbers must be a disappointment to publisher Crown.

Deer in the Headlights is selling far fewer copies than The Rogue, despite the coup of appearances on the Dr. Phil, The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, and the Joy Behar Show.  It has also received wide coverage in newspapers and on blogs.

What the weak sales say about Sarah Palin’s political future is hard to assess.  Most Americans have already made up their mind about Palin, pro or con. Those who support Palin tend to dismiss The Rogue as unsubstantiated gossip and for those who dislike her, the most salacious details just confirm their worst impression of the former Alaska governor.  Interestingly, most of the criticism of McGinnis’ use of anonymous sources has come from conventional media critics like CNN’s Howie Kurtz.  The conservative blog The Thinking Voter called out other conservative bloggers for failing to defend Palin: “When a liberal loon goes on attack spree against Sarah Palin, even if one doesn’t support her for the presidency, were is the outrage?  This is an embarrassment for the conservative movement.”

The weak sales probably say more about the dim future of Sarah Palin as a celebrity.  The real life soap opera story of the Palin family is beginning to look like it’s in the thirteenth minute of its fifteen minutes of fame.  With both Bristol Palin and Johnston having released books in the last few months, the story of their acrimonious relationship seems to have run its course.  Johnston, in particular, appears ready to step out of the spotlight.  He had one story to tell and now that he’s told it, the public interest in him is sure to dim.  The soft book sales of The Rogue and the poor ratings for last fall’s TLC show Sarah Palin’s Alaska suggest limits to the public’s interest in Palin when the story is not directly centered on a potential presidential campaign.