Monday, June 25, 2007

Book-Contract Baksheesh

On the eve of another Rupert Murdoch mongoose act, this time swallowing the Wall Street Journal, he gets a review from the New York Times that required legwork by no less than four reporters and, in the end, reflects both shock and awe at the Australian who is eating the media world.

America’s “paper of record” narrates Murdoch’s unique skills at getting politicians to act as enablers in his addictive expansion of an information empire.

In addition to the time-honored methods, Murdoch has perfected new variations for buying them, not least of which is bribery by book advance.

As Congress was preparing to redraw the media ownership rules, Murdoch’s book publishing arm, HarperCollins, gave House Speaker Newt Gingrich a $4.5 million contract. In the Senate, Trent Lott got a $250,000 advance for a memoir.

Other Senators came at bargain prices. Arlen Specter, received $24,506 for “Passion for Truth,” Kay Bailey Hutchison $141,666 for “American Heroines.” Chuck Hagel has a book deal for next year.

Unless things have changed drastically since my time as a publisher, books by politicians, unless they involve scandal, are not best-sellers. Trent Lott’s quarter-of-a-million-dollar tome sold 12,000 copies.

But Murdoch got his money’s worth, as he no doubt will from the $1 million advance to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Book publishing is an odd business that has never been just about money.

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