Tuesday, October 19, 2004

from PW Daily for Booksellers (Tuesday, October 19, 2004)

Naked Justice? Wal-Mart Cancels America Orders

Though America: The Book has been the country's #1 hardcover nonfiction bestseller for three weeks, it has achieved those sales without the help of America's largest retailer.

Warner Books publisher Jamie Raab confirmed today that Wal-Mart had cancelled its orders for the book authored by Jon Stewart and the writers at the Daily Show because of a satirical spread that pastes the heads of Supreme Court justices onto naked bodies.

The images "really seemed to shake people up," said Raab. In addition to Wal-Mart, at least one other significant chain also initially balked at stocking the book, she said, though "they later decided it was going to be big book and they didn't want to miss out."

Wal-Mart is well-known for its refusal to stock albums with explicit lyrics. It has also modified book orders on decency grounds. Last month, Walmart.com stopped carrying The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion in response to a complaint from the Anti-Defamation League. In 2003, the site also ceased stocking Varieties of Man/Boy Love by Mark Pascal. In Stewart's case, Walmart.com is carrying the book while brick-and-mortar Wal-Mart stores are not. However, the situation is unusual because the book is selling so well elsewhere, and because its images are intended as satire.

Though the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression holds the position that "offering a broad range of material is essential for democracy," president Chris Finan said that Wal-Mart is acting within its rights. "The First Amendment protects the right of retailer not to stock a book or other product. We would never criticize Wal-Mart for its particular choices."
While sales at Wal-Mart can account for anywhere from 1%-20% of sales for some books, it's unclear how much Stewart's book has been hurt by the chain. "Maybe it wouldn't have sold very well at Wal-Mart, but we'll never know," said Raab, pointing out that sales of genre fiction tend to far outweigh political books at the chain.

Co-author and Daily Show executive producer Ben Karlin said that Wal-Mart's decision came as a blow. "Wal-Mart was the place we wanted to be the most. We wanted America: The Book to reach America, and we thought the flag on the cover would do it for Wal-Mart, since they're fond of selling things with flags on them."--Charlotte Abbott

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