Are Wendy Davis' Book Sales That Bad?

Oct 30, 2014

Democrat for Texas Governor Wendy Davis sold at least 4,450 hard copies of her memoir Forgetting to Be Afraid since it was published on September 9th, Nielsen BookScan reports. Conservatives have bashed the number as dismal, but some independent book industry veterans say the sales figure is actually respectable.

That number covers sales through October 26, a time period when Davis appeared on cable news and profiles of her were published in Vogue and New York Magazine. The time frame does not include her appearance this week on The Daily Show.

The Nielsen BookScan numbers do not include eBooks, which accounted for 27 percent of book sales in 2013. They also does not include sales at smaller, independent bookstores. Nielson BookScan says the figure accounts for 85 percent of print sales, mainly at major retailers such as Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Wal-Mart.

"Davis’ book and campaign are telling reminders that hype only takes you so far," wrote Slate's Betsy Woodruff, who first broke the story. She compared Davis' book sales to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s, which are at 78,000 since April, BookScan confirmed to KUT.

Davis critics pounced on the number, saying it indicates lackluster support for her gubernatorial campaign. Conservative media echoed the Slate report.

"America is officially over Wendy Davis," the Washington Examiner proclaimed. "Wendy Davis' Book Has Even Lower Numbers Than Her Campaign," Brietbart declared.

A couple veteran book publicists unaffiliated with the Davis campaign had a different take. 

"If her book has only been out less than two months, then I think her sales are good," Austin-based independent publicist Stephanie Barko says. "So 4,500 hundred for that length of time, not counting independent retailers, is brisk." 

Portland, Oregon independent book publicist Mary Bisbee-Beek says Davis' sales figures were "definitely healthy" but do not necessarily correlate to her political success.  

"For anyone to cite this as an indication of her popularity or how she's doing, they just don't understand book publishing," Bisbee-Beek says.

"There are a lot of variables here [affecting book sales]. Where is it positioned on [the publisher's] list? What kind of advertising dollars are they putting in this?" she says.

However, Davis and her publisher Blue Rider do not appear eager to tout the sales figures. Our requests for comment were not returned.    

Davis is facing a mighty battle against her well-financed Republican rival, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. The latest polling from Rice University and a separate survey from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune both have Davis trailing Abbott by at least 15 points.

Abbott has also filed a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission over Davis' book tour, accusing her of using campaign funds to promote her book. Davis' campaign disputes the complaint, calling it "frivolous." The Ethics Commission is not expected to decide the matter before the election.