The largest publishing houses in the country have discovered that books with a conservative political slant mean big money and sales. Simon & Schuster (CBS) can depend on its Threshold Editions imprint to spawn success from the likes of Glenn Beck, while Penguin (PSO) and Random House publish conservative books through imprints Sentinel and Crown Forum, respectively. So it's no real surprise that HarperCollins (NWS) has finally jumped aboard a crowded bandwagon with the January 2011 launch of Broadside Books, a new imprint spearheaded by Adam Bellow, who told the New York Times he considers himself "a conservative in a liberal industry."
The bigger question is whether the new imprint represents further convergence and entrenchment on the part of its parent company, News Corp.
Bellow, son of novelist Saul Bellow, has been at HarperCollins since 2008, when he was wooed away from Random House's Doubleday imprint to be part of the rebranding of the company's Collins division into a powerhouse non-fiction publisher. The division was closed in April 2009, but Bellow -- already known for editing books by conservative pundits and leaders like Jonah Goldberg, J.R. Dunn and Bruce Bawer -- stayed on as a high-ranking editor, and landed what HarperCollins must view as a prize acquisition: Going Rogue by Sarah Palin. That book sold approximately 3 million copies and seven-figure sales are expected for Palin's upcoming book, America By Heart.
Palin, of course, is also a paid commentator for another big News Corp. property, FOX News. And while America By Heart won't be part of Broadside Books (neither will Bill O'Reilly, whose newest bestseller Pinheads and Patriots is published by another company division, William Morrow), the titles the new imprint will publish have natural, Rupert Murdoch-owned media partners in the form of FOX News and the Wall Street Journal.
Just this weekend, the Journal launched a stand-alone book review section. The newspaper has run book reviews for years, but the new section, edited by former Weekly Standard staffer Robert Messenger, raised eyebrows for the possibility of greater conflicts of interest -- and concerns that the reviews would not sufficiently disclose any ties between the Wall Street Journal and other News Corp. divisions.
Media watchdogs will certainly be on the lookout to see if Broadside Books plays favorites with respect to the authors it publishes, in terms of whether they have prior ties to News Corp. or would be obviously attractive promotional assets for the company as a whole. In addressing the issue, HarperCollins spokesperson Tina Andreadis said, "We will continue to operate as we always have, but having [Broadside Books] allows us to cultivate a specific focus on a variety of books from a conservative point of view."
The company can tapdance around the question of potential conflicts, but the more they appear to consolidate their media interests, the more scrutiny they will face -- even if perpetual disclosures are both cumbersome and undesirable.
This post has been changed to correct an error. Adam Bellow was employed at Doubleday, part of Random House, just before moving to HarperCollins. He was employed at Free Press earlier in his editorial career.