Ruddmania not spreading to bookstores

When I bought my copy of Nicholas Stuart’s Rudd: The Unauthorised Biography the day it came out the woman serving me in the bookshop said she was wondering how well it would sell. In Susan Wyndham’s Undercover column in the books section of this morning’s Sydney Morning Herald we have the answer: not very well.

In its first 10 days, according to Nielsen BookScan, it sold 572 copies. Its less critical rival biography by Robert Macklin had 504 sales. Once you take out friends and family of Rudd, friends and family of the biographers, people who think they might have been mentioned, Liberal politicians and staffers looking for dirt, and discount for those in the aforementioned groups who bought both books the number of members of the general public curious to know more about our likely next PM may be down into double figures, in the first week-and-a-half anyway.

Having read the Stuart book the book-buying public has probably made a sound judgment. Reading it cover to cover won’t change any perceptions a newspaper reader might have formed about Rudd over the last few years (indeed, it reads like a long newspaper article) and will add only slightly more detail. He is intelligent, hard-working, emotionally stable, politically moderate and very ambitious. He drives his staff hard, he loves his family.

Anyone running for PM is by definition somewhat unusual, but Rudd is on this account not a complex man – the pieces of his personality fit neatly together, without strong tensions between them. That may be something in his favour as the alternative Prime Minister, but it doesn’t help biographers craft an interesting story.

10 thoughts on “Ruddmania not spreading to bookstores

  1. Have to agree with you having read both books. Macklin’s book is similar in tone, although a bit more adulatory as one would probably expect.

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  2. Is this some strange Australian phenomenon? I always assumed biographies are written and published after people had left their mark in politics (or society, or whatever). I remember seeing lots of Kim Beazley biographies gathering dust in second hand book stores and now there are even two biographies of someone who just recently became labour leader.

    On the other hand, it might provide some extra background information to the voters. Considering these books are like extended newspaper articles, that is not really the case. And, considering the number of books sold, the voters are not very interested. Probably they can only become successful if there is sufficient ‘dirt’ in it (or when the person has a large family).

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  3. Eric – Biographies/autobiographies of American presidential candidates seem quite common, and there is a biography of British Opposition Leader David Cameron out, so I don’t think this is distinctively Australian.

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  4. How many books have there been on Howard and how successful have they been? I think I read somewhere he has been the least written about incumbent PM, but I could be wrong on that.

    I ask because once in a book store in Kingsford Smith whilst waiting for a flight, I saw a book titled something like “A Report Card on John Howard”, which was written by a very right wing author and glowed platitudes on JWH. On my asking about the book, the assistant said the books (two copies only) have been on the shelf for a long while now, and though many people have picked it up (as I did) noone has purchased one.

    That is the only book I know about JWH that I have seen in stores.

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  5. MD – There has been one biography of Howard, David Barnett’s poorly-received 1997 book, with another due next month. I don’t think there have been any single-author books in favour of him or the government (at least not from major publishers), though one of the several books on his goverment (as opposed to him personally), an edited collection called The Howard Factor, was generally seen to be sympathetic. I have no information on sales, though it is rare for books on Australian politics to be a commercial success.

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  6. On Eric’s point, perhaps an hypothesis would be that the more presidential the system, the more it matters which person holds the single-most important job, the more likely is is that biographies will be produced.

    On Homer’s point, biographers need to be found (and they would rather work on people who are individually interesting, rather than people who are interesting mainly because of the power they hold – into which category Howard falls), and publishers, who have to be convinced there is a viable market for the book. Howard like Rudd is not a complex person and so of less-than-average interest to biographers and would-be readers, plus for publishers the added complication that it is generally thought that right-leaning Australians buy fewer political books than left-leaning Australians.

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  7. Andrew,
    It is ironic that Howard is one of the most boring people you can meet but his political life has been very interesting.

    He was ahem controversial as a very compliant business friendly business and consumers affairs minister, he was a disaster as minster for trade negotions but his period of being treasurer was very interesting.
    Either Howard is correct and a lot of submissions to cabinet were rejected or Fraser and Anthony are correct and no submissions went to cabinet.

    His time as Oppo leader was riveting. Howard after all almost choked poor Jim Carlton to death when his double counting blue was exposed by Keating.

    There is also the myth he was always an economic liberal

    let alone examining the Government record.

    I repeat it is an absolute disgrace no -one has written about apart from Barnett’s dreadful an inaccurate dirge.

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  8. Homer – I’m not disagreeing with you, there should have been more and the interesting times of a ‘life and times’ approach is the best way to make the book interesting. But I was just trying to explain why it hadn’t happened. It’s worth noting that the Howard biography coming out next month is from Melbourne University Press, a mid-sized firm but not a highly commercial outfit. It would be interesting to know if they expect to make money from it, or they are doing it because they think it fills an obvious gap whether or not profit is to be had.

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  9. Andrew,
    I profusely apologise if you thought I was having a go at you.
    I wasn’t.

    whether you like or not Howard is a successful long term PM and had interesting times in Opposition. He deserves better from the biorgaphers of OZ.

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