October 14, 2010

Hey, Paul Krugman, know any government secrets worth $700 billion?


As the government continues to post depressing-as-hell monthly job numbers–and Paul Krugman and other economists keep bemoaning the Obama Administration’s inability to get enough money in last year’s stimulus bill to plug the hole in the economy–John Schwartz has a pretty bright idea as to how the government can get the economy going again, and it’s one that should excite everyone in the book business.

In an essay in the business section of the New York Times yesterday, Schwartz argued that the government’s efforts to effectively censor the first edition of Operation Dark Heart by Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer (which we’ve mentioned a time or two) has had an unintended consequence that St. Martin’s, Shaffer’s publisher, should be pretty happy about: by buying all 10,000 copies of the first printing, they’ve helped to turn the book into a bestseller. (The book is in its fifth printing and currently sits at #7 on the Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list.) Mark S. Zaid, Shaffer’s lawyer, told Schwartz that, “I can only wish that the government would destroy more of my clients’ books!”

And the enthusiasm is spreading to other publishers:

Over at Twelve, part of the Hachette Book Group and a rival of St. Martin’s, the publisher, Susan Lehman, and the associate publisher, Cary Goldstein…say that they saw the government’s move not just as a stimulus, but as an incentive.

“We’re going to be publishing all kinds of national security secrets,” Ms. Lehman said, adding that they might even change the name of the imprint to “Twelve Secrets.”

“We’re actually waiting for a call from the government right now,” Mr. Goldstein added.

Book retailers are, not surprisingly, taking advantage, too:

First editions [of Operation Dark Heart] have sold for more than $2,000. Nicholas Watson, director of online sales at the Housing Works bookstore in Manhattan, was stunned to see a copy of the book sell on its site for $250. The bookstore is a nonprofit operation whose proceeds go to fight homelessness and AIDS, so Mr. Watson said the Pentagon assist was more than welcome. “You can’t buy P.R. like that” for a book, he said.

No, you can’t.

Since the offending secrets seem to be getting out anyway, it’s pretty tempting to issue a full endorsement of Schwartz’s call for this new stimulus:

…Mr. Obama, here is my challenge to you. Ban more books. Buy more books. Your nation’s publishers, and readers, need your help.