Fire and Fury and sales

Everyone knows that American culture has a way of trickling up to the Great White North. We love their TV shows, movies, books, podcasts, you name it. But that doesn't mean everything that's successful in the US will find a Canadian audience. (Case in point: scrapple.)

Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff's controversy-laden tell-all about Trump's White House, is not an example of a failed American export. As has already been well reported, Canadian readers have flocked to their local libraries to get copies of the book and bookstores have been clamouring to meet demand after Trump's lawyer issued a cease-and-desist that caused its US publisher, Henry Holt, to move up publication by a few days. A massive effort in the Canadian supply chain has been underway to get print copies of the book into the hands of readers (which has turned out to be something of a boon for the ebook version). So now that copies have finally made it into bookstores across the country, does the bite match up to the bark when it comes to sales?

The short answer is a resounding yes. Though we can't release unit sales for an individual title, we can say that between the week of Jan. 1-7 and Jan. 8-14, print sales in the Canadian market for Fire and Fury increased by 8,952% (keeping in mind that they were very low the first week with limited print copies available in the market). But even in its second week, sales increased another 266%. Not too shabby. 

Of course, Fire and Fury isn't the first buzzy book fuelled by American politics to get major attention in Canada. Here are just a few examples: At the end of 2006, there was The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by then-senator Barack Obama who would announce his presidential campaign three months after its release; in 2010, there was Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime by political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin about the 2008 United States presidential election; released in 2016, The Making of Donald Trump by biographer and investigative journalist David Cay Johnston made waves at the height of the more recent US presidential election as the definitive book on Trump (at the time); and most recently in 2017, Hillary Rodham Clinton published What Happened. How did these books fare in the Canadian market when they were released?

If we look at unit sales during the first 13 weeks following the publication date for the first hardcover edition of each book, we see that Fire and Fury is indeed fairly unprecedented. Its first-week sales are only surpassed by Clinton's What Happened. If you compare each book's second-week performance, unit sales are almost on par, and by the third week, Fire and Fury skyrocketed into its own hemisphere. The below graph also shows the on-hand and on-order numbers for Fire and Fury, which were very low going into the first week due to the sudden nature of its release and rise in popularity. Once the market had a chance to catch up, sales were quick to follow.

  • Fire and Fury (9781250158062)
  • What Happened (9781501175565)
  • The Making of Donald Trump (9781612196329)
  • Game Change (9780061733635)
  • The Audacity of Hope (9780307237699)

We can't overlook, of course, that Obama announced his presidential campaign more than 13 weeks after his book came out. If we expand the timeline a bit, the trend line for The Audacity of Hope does see a post-Christmas spike in mid-February, but it never hits Fire and Fury or even What Happened numbers.

So while Canadian sales for Fire and Fury have been fast and furious (so far), does that mean Canadian readers are more interested in US politics than Canadian politics? Let's look to the data for that answer, too.

If we pull a list of the 100 top-selling books for the past 10 years in the Political Science, Biography & Autobiography / Political, and Biography & Autobiography / Presidents & Heads of State categories — which are the three categories we find the above books categorized under — only 37 are Canadian-authored. The top-seller is, no surprise here, Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, followed by The Audacity of Hope, with What Happened taking the third spot. Only two Canadian-authored books appear in the top 10 — The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein and The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant — neither of which are even about Canadian politics or politicians. Notably absent from the list are Justin Trudeau's recent autobiography, Common Ground, Robyn Dolittle's Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story, and Clinton's Hard Choices from 2014, none of which made the cut because they were categorized under Biography & Autobiography / General. But if they had been on the list, they would've landed in the #19, #29, and #8 spots, respectively.

So maybe we do read more about American than Canadian politics, but if controversy leads to sales, perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky.