Palin's Gold Mine
Did you hear that Sarah Palin has a book out? Of course you did. Her memoir, Going Rogue, has been the talk of the nation this week. Love her or hate her, the ex-governor of Alaska has once again sucked all the air out of the room of our national conversation. We’ve spent another week transfixed by her idiosyncratic brand of political psychobabble, her petty grievances, and the challenges faced by an “average American” like herself.
While her followers may buy the whole “average” shtick she’s selling, there’s one thing about the lady that is decidedly elite: her earning power. In July, we estimated that in resigning, Palin had lined herself up for a payday between $17 million and $20.75 million over the next 12 months. With Going Rogue crushing the bestseller lists, she’s well on her way.
“Sales are phenomenal, and we are convinced that the book will continue to sell phenomenally for some time to come,” says a HarperCollins insider.
And what of the media that can’t seem to look away? While left-of-center commentators will mock her as ardently as right-of-center supporters gush over her, they’re both making money right alongside her by covering the spectacle that is Sarah. How much? We set out to put a value on a single week of Palinmania—not only to Palin herself, but to everyone else riding on her gravy train.
Going Rogue is going gangbusters, and it looks like both Palin and her publisher, HarperCollins, are going to make some serious money off of it. According to industry insiders, Palin got a $7 million advance for her book. She’s earning a royalty rate of 15 percent, which means she makes $4.35 per book sold, and therefore needs to sell 1.6 million books to earn out her advance. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that HarperCollins had printed another 100,000 copies of Going Rogue, bringing the total in print to 1.6 million. Palin would need to sell all of those to earn out her advance, so it’s unlikely that’s going to happen.
Michelle Goldberg: Palins’ Ego Trip
• Tina Brown: Sarah Drops the Act But HarperCollins will be making money long before that. There’s a rule of thumb in the industry that publishers net about $10 per hardcover sold, after expenses, but before the cost of the advance. Once she’s sold 700,000 copies, then, HarperCollins is in the black. And what of that 1.6 million printed? An ideal “sell-through” rate is about 75 percent, which means HarperCollins thinks it’s going to sell about 1.2 million copies. At that level, Palin will have made $7 million and HarperCollins $5 million of its own.
• More Daily Beast contributors on Palin’s book tour A HarperCollins insider told The Daily Beast that the book sold a staggering 300,000 copies on the first day alone, which was Tuesday. “Sales are phenomenal, and we are convinced that the book will continue to sell phenomenally for some time to come,” says the insider. They’re not prevaricating: As of 2:30 p.m. today, the book was No. 1 on Amazon, ahead of both Stephen King’s new novel, Under the Dome, and Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. The latter sold 1 million copies on its first day, but that figure included the U.K., and top fiction generally trumps nonfiction. Any way you carve it, Going Rogue looks to be a $12 million goldmine.
THE TALKING HEADS
Palin made the media rounds this week as she was out humping her book. Check her Facebook page, and you’ll see her report on “a great conversation” with Rush Limbaugh, “a great conversation” with Barbara Walters, and… wait for it… “a great conversation” with Oprah Winfrey. As for Sean Hannity of Fox News? He’s a cut above. Palin reports that he’s “a great American.”
So what was she worth to the news business this week? Let’s break it down. The Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism estimated 2008 news revenue for NBC, ABC, and CBS at $800 million, $700 million, and $500 million, respectively. Similarly, Journalism.org estimated 2008 cable news revenue at Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC at $567 million, $556 million, and $173 million, respectively.
Because Fox News was practically slobbering over the woman 24/7, we’ll give her credit for a full half day’s worth of revenue, or $800,000. Add all the other ones up—from ABC to CNN—and you get $7.5 million in daily revenue. Palin got tons of coverage, but not an across-the-board half day’s worth, so we’ll give her 10 percent of the daily total, or $750,000. That’s a total of $1.55 million.
Of course, she was of particular value to both Oprah Winfrey and Good Morning America (interviewed by Barbara Walters, no less!) this week. Oprah averages 6.8 million viewers to GMA’s 4.1 million, for a total of 10.9 million. According to The New York Times, Palin’s appearance was Oprah’s best in two years, reeling in 8.7 million viewers. Apply the same premium to GMA, ad you get 5.2 million coffee-drinking gawkers at the absurdity that is Sarah Palin. We’ll give her $2.5 million for her troubles.
The blogosphere was also afire with Palinmania, from Andrew Sullivan to Talking Points Memo to this very site. It’s harder to put a number on it, but we’ll give her a half million, or $500,000 worth of credit. All-in, she was worth $4.55 million to the media.
In its continuing struggle to stay in the national conversation, Newsweek pulled out the stops this week and put Palin on the cover—in her jogging shorts. (The picture was from a shoot taken for Runner’s World magazine.) The gambit worked. First, Palin took the bait, and issued a Palinesque statement in which she both referred to herself in the third person and called Newsweek sexist for using a photograph that she had posed for. Palin has been on the cover of Newsweek three times before, and has resulted in newsstand sales 16 percent higher than average. Given the magazine’s recent newsstand sales of 64,866 copies, one can assume a 77,190 performance this week. Considering the $4.95 cover price, that comes to $382,093. We’ll give her 50 percent credit, which comes to $191,046 Add in other magazines’ coverage, and Palin has delivered $250,000 of magazine revenue.
THE SPEAKING/SIGNING FEES
Last time we ran this exercise, we estimated Palin’s potential speaking fees at $75,000 to $100,000. Let’s just accept that it’s going to be at the higher end of the range. And let’s also accept that in the midst of her book tour, Palin slipped in a private meeting or two this week, pulling in $200,000 in the process.
Palin is not shy about Hoovering up cash left and right: Give $100 to her political action committee, and she’ll give you a “free” signed copy of her book. Let’s assume that 1,000 followers anted up for the “free” copies, and that she made two speeches on the sly during the week. That’s $100,000 for the PAC and $200,000 for her pocket, for a total of $300,000.
THE RADIO SHOW
In July, we estimated that Palin could command from $7.5 million to $10 million as the host of a radio show. No deal has been struck yet, but she pretty much confirmed this week that the faithful will flock to her wherever she goes—be it a Barnes & Noble in Grand Rapids (that was Wednesday) or a Sam’s Club in Washington, Pennsylvania (that’s this Saturday). There’s no reason to think that they won’t tune their radio dials to hear her painfully inarticulate brand of patriotic individualism. So the radio show is a lock. This week’s stagecraft pretty much guarantees her that $7.5 million in 2010.
HER OVERALL MARKETABILITY
There’s no way to argue with it: This was a triumphant week for the brand called Sarah Palin. Given that people either think she’s a Godsend or a national joke—there’s really no in-between—it’s difficult to think that her popularity could be rising. But it certainly isn’t falling. Whatever she’s selling, there are millions of people who are going to be buying. It seems fitting, then, to kick in another $1 million as a nod to her solidified brand value.
THE BOTTOM LINE
What’s a week of Sarah Palin worth? A cool $25.6 million, a helluva lot more than a certain someone got for taking off his clothes for Playgirl.
*With reporting by Miriam Datskovsky
Duff McDonald is a contributing editor at New York magazine and a former contributing editor at Condé Nast Portfolio. His book, Last Man Standing, about Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase, was published by Simon & Schuster in October.