It appears people have finally had enough of the Harvey Weinstein story: “Hollywood Ending,” the new book from media reporter Ken Auletta, has fizzled in its first three weeks of sales with only 2,600 copies sold.
NPD BookScan, which tracks print book sales in the U.S., reported Thursday that 690 copies were sold last week, the book’s third week of publication. A total of 1,533 copies were sold in the first week, which dropped to 375 the following week. That brought total sales to 2,598. (E-sales are recorded separately, about two months after a print release.)
It’s “a pretty weak debut for a book from a writer of this caliber, on a topic that was this significant at the time that it happened,” NPD analyst Kristen McLean told TheWrap.
Even on Martha’s Vineyard, where Weinstein once spent summers at a sprawling vacation home, the local Edgartown bookstore has sold only three copies.
“If you want to know why I think it hasn’t sold, my guess is that people are distancing themselves from hard things right now,” said Mathew Tombers, manager of Edgartown Books in an email. “Since the invasion of Ukraine, customers [and I include myself] have wanted to stay away from hard, [nonfiction] books” – especially those contending with ‘the troubles of our times’.”
When the studio mogul was exposed as a serial rapist and abuser, a media maelstrom whipped into action, churning articles, podcasts, documentaries – and two highly successful books. Auletta, the veteran New Yorker writer who profiled Weinstein in 2002, finally published his own opus this year.
“Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence” published by Penguin was marketed as a deep-dive into Weinstein’s origins, featuring exclusive interviews, fresh reporting and correspondence with the man himself from his jail cell. But since the book hit shelves on July 12, it has gotten no traction commercially.
“Hollywood Ending” never cracked the USA Today Top 150 Weekly Best Sellers list, nor the New York Times Best Sellers list. It currently sits at #6,619 on Amazon Books and #18,465 on Barnes & Noble.com.
Those numbers are even more dismal when compared to the runaway successes of the two major Weinstein books before it. Ronan Farrow’s “Catch and Kill” sold 44,611 copies in its first week alone, was nearing 85,000 in its first three, and spent five weeks on the NYT Best Sellers list; “She Said,” by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, sold 10,095 hardcover copies its debut week, and made the list for three weeks, totaling almost 23,000 copies sold in that time.
Add in Auletta’s established track record as a best-selling author and a promotional campaign that included a sit-down interview on CBS Sunday Morning and other high-profile press, and the plot thickens. In an industry as unpredictable as book publishing, timing is everything.
“[Auletta] is a very well-regarded media reporter,” observed Ed Nawotka, Bookselling and International Editor at Publishers Weekly. “But this is the third book on a story that, once people feel they have a resolution of [it], it’s probably not as salacious.”
Despite containing “new and nuanced” information – including one victim’s description of Weinstein that was so grotesque it went viral (it had to do with the shape of his member) – “Hollywood Ending” apparently lacks the “breaking news” quality that sent similar titles flying off the shelves in 2019.
“The issue is [that people] moved on from the issue,” said Nawotka. “I don’t want to say people don’t care, but they may not feel that it’s worth the 35 bucks that they would have to plunk down to to find out what those nuances are.”
This year’s numbers point to the same conclusion. Following the social and political turmoil of 2020 (an exceptional year for adult nonfiction) and last year’s pandemic-fueled sales boom, the book market has cooled down. As a whole, adult nonfiction “is not selling particularly well this year, particularly in these current-events type areas,” said McLean, noting that some subcategories have fallen below 2019 levels. “There just seems to be a lot of appetite for escapist fiction for this year, and not a lot of appetite for some of the heavier-hitting political or current events subjects.”
Even titles that are backed by “an aggressive launch campaign,” such as with “Hollywood Ending,” have struggled to reach or hold onto bestseller status for multiple weeks.
What’s more, print publishing has been hit hard in the years since the Weinstein story first broke. Thanks to inflation and the closure of paper mills during the pandemic, production and shipping costs have increased, driving up the price of hardcover books. “Hollywood Ending” is retailing for $30 at most bookstores.
Though the number of copies publisher Penguin ordered remains unknown (the company does not share advance sales predictions), “it wouldn’t have [been] an insignificant print run,” said McLean.
But Nawotka, the Publishers Weekly editor, doesn’t look at it as a failure. “It’s not great, but it’s not terrible,” he said. “It’s not dead in the water.” To be fair, sales bounced a bit in its third week, up to 690 from 375 the week before.
While the book certainly isn’t hitting any best seller lists, Penguin may be gaining something in the long run.
“What you’re paying for with the book isn’t necessarily a single object. You’re paying for a relationship with the author,” Nawotka continued. “There’s a lot of ancillary benefits from working with somebody as prestigious as Ken Auletta, on [a] subject as big as the Harvey Weinstein scandal, even if you’re not selling books explicitly.”
That doesn’t mean “Hollywood Ending’s” fate is sealed. A resurgence on social media could translate to a boom in sales, as it has for older books that have gone viral on “BookTok.” And Weinstein isn’t out of the headlines just yet.
Auletta’s tome landed on shelves a month after the New York Supreme Court ruled to uphold his 23-year prison sentence. On Oct. 10, he will face 11 charges of rape and sexual assault in a Los Angeles trial, likely propelling his name back into conversation.
“If there are events in the future that make it front-of-mind again, then it will sell again, or it will sell in reaction to that,” McLean concurred. “This book isn’t going to go out of print.”
What, if anything, does “Hollywood Ending” say about the future of #MeToo storytelling? For one, publishers put serious stock into “comp titles,” or books on comparable subjects, when deciding what to bet on next.
“This tends to be a following market, in the sense that if there’s a great vampire book published, you’ll see a lot of vampire books be published,” McLean explained. “But also, if you see a book that was expected to do great in an area and surprised people with underperformance, I’m sure that that’s taken into account.”
Still, Nawotka thinks there are many, many more #MeToo stories waiting to be told: “The question is, does the public have an appetite for them?”