Publisher Gives Away Books It Thinks May Help People Bridge Political Divisions

From The Wall Street Journal:

Simon & Schuster is giving away two books meant to help readers engage with people holding opposing views as the country is divided on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights.

The book publisher, a unit of Paramount Global, is making the digital audiobook and ebook editions of Amanda Ripley’s “High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out,” and Anna Sale’s “Let’s Talk About Hard Things: The Life-Changing Conversations That Connect Us” available for free until the end of July.

Jonathan Karp, the publisher’s chief executive, said it is the first time to his knowledge that Simon & Schuster has given away books outside of charitable efforts—a decision that he said was prompted by a flurry of recent events that further worsened divisions.

“The Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade was on my mind, along with the debates Americans are having about guns, the 2020 election, Jan. 6, climate change and immigration, to name just a few of the issues that divide us,” he said.

Both Ms. Ripley and Ms. Sale are on board with the plan and agreed not to receive royalties for the copies that are downloaded, Mr. Karp said.

“High Conflict” and “Let’s Talk About Hard Things,” which both came out in 2021, have sold more than 19,000 print copies and more than 11,000 print copies respectively so far, according to book tracker NPD BookScan.

Both books are “trying to help us understand how we got to a place where we have turned on each other,” said Ms. Ripley, a journalist and host of the weekly Slate podcast “How To!” She said, “What is a better way to handle conflict?”

She said giving away the books was akin to paywalled news sites making health-related content available to all during the pandemic.

Ms. Ripley said “High Conflict” argues that “there is a kind of malignant conflict that becomes conflict for its own sake, in which everyone ends up worse off, as opposed to ‘good conflict,’ which is healthy and generative.”

“Let’s Talk About Hard Things,” Ms. Sale’s debut book, focuses on how to have thoughtful conversations about such subjects as money, death and identity, while being able to listen to other opinions.

. . . .

“Publishers see that the books addressing the ideological extremes often sell the best, even though polling indicates that a majority of Americans are somewhere in the middle,” Mr. Karp said. “What’s needed are more books that show us how to find common ground.”

Paramount Global agreed to sell Simon & Schuster to Bertelsmann SE’s Penguin Random House publishing unit for about $2.18 billion in November 2020. The planned sale was later challenged by the Justice Department on antitrust grounds, and a trial is expected to start Aug. 1.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG would have been more impressed if S&S had paid the authors of the two free books a reasonable sum to replace the royalties they might be losing under the free book promotion.

When PG checked, “High Conflict” had a Best Sellers Rank of #1,765,731 in Kindle Store and “Hard Things” had a Best Sellers Rank of #1,413 in the Free category of the Kindle Store (PG couldn’t find any non-free ranking info for either title). The authors may have concluded they were not likely to earn out their advances, so going free had no financial downside.

A Wall Street Journal article by itself, is a big boost for the authors’ brands and maybe the authors get S&S brownie points until the Bertelsmann acquisition goes through, at which point, “free” goes out the window forever.

8 thoughts on “Publisher Gives Away Books It Thinks May Help People Bridge Political Divisions”

    • Sorry for this error.

      I can’t believe that Simon & Schuster, the publishers of the real book hasn’t jumped all over Amazon for publishing a look-alike fraud. I couldn’t find anywhere else online where the fraud appears.

  1. I did pull both books (after figuring out the mixup on the one by Ripley).

    May get to them next month to see what they actually contain. All too many of these, from whatever ideological “side” the writer occupies, are more of the “Compromise means acknowledging that I am right, that you are wrong – and you need to just shut up.”

  2. Wishful thinking.

    I still downloaded them and I hope to find some value but I don’t expect that even if tbe books are great and rational that anything will change. If rationality were to have an impact things would never have gotten this far.
    The current tribalization of tbe identity wars is a literal Gordian knot.
    And I’m not sure an Alexander will leave things any better.

  3. I downloaded both – thanks – with the thought of skimming to see if there’s anything I can use I am not aware of – as an author of fiction.

    My previous go to is How to Negotiate Anything (IIRC), a tattered little MM paperback which is old and falling apart and not searchable, and has an interesting couple of examples about the Russians buying America real estate.

  4. Big fan of Amanda Ripley, I’ll check out her conflict book. I’m halfway through The Unthinkable, and it’s very eye-opening in a humble, non-sensational way while remaining incredibly interesting and well researched.

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