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Regnery's Marji Ross: Free Market Guru or Bird in a Gilded Cage?

Reported by Marie Therese - February 23, 2005

Regnery Publishing is a leading publisher of conservative books. It was the first company to publish the fledgling writings of Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society. Regnery's modern site does not acknowledge the connection and prefers instead to tout their affiliation with William F. Buckley. We here at News Hounds have followed them with interest for a while now. Many of the books mentioned on FOX News Channel are Regnery titles, and it is interesting that in the following FOX News Sunday segment on Marji Ross, she gratefully acknowledges FOX's contribution to her company's success.

TRANSCRIPT OF FOX NEWS SUNDAY SEGMENT February 20, 2005

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: During the height of the 2000 Presidential campaign, only one book on the New York Times Bestseller List was about politics, but this last fall seven of the fifteen books on the list were political. No one know more about this trend or has had more to do with it than our Power Player of the Week.

VIDEOCLIP OF Marji Ross: "Our goal is to get books that are - become - part of the fabric of the debate." [End clip.]

WALLACE: Marji Ross is President and Publisher of Regnery Books and, since she took over in 2003, she's been very good at her job.

ROSS: In the past three years we have 50% of our books have hit ...

WALLACE: Half of the books that you publish ...

ROSS: Half of the books that we publish ...

WALLACE: .... end up on the New York Times Bestseller List?

ROSS: Yeah.

WALLACE: That's a pretty good batting average.

ROSS: Yeah, it is. I think it's probably unmatched in publishing.

WALLACE: Books like last summer's phenomenon "Unfit for Command" about John Kerry's war record, which sold 600,000 copies and hit #1 on the list. More on this later. Regnery started in 1947 and published William F. Buckley's first book [Miles Gone By] and Whittaker Chambers' "Witness," helping lay the groundwork for the conservative movement. But in the mid-90's, Regnery decided it could be conservative and commercial.

ROSS: Whether it was FOX News or conservative talk radio, there was such a better avenue for us to promote our books and get the message out.

WALLACE: And the bestsellers soon followed.

ROSS (pointing to framed copy of "Unlimited Access: An FBI Agent Inside the Clinton White House" by Gary Aldrich): That was our number one New York Times Bestseller.

ROSS (pointing to framed cover of Bias by Bernie Goldberg): This was another big bestseller. Bernie Goldberg wrote the book that - um - that everyone now quotes as the definitive book on liberal bias in the media.

WALLACE: Ross says part of the secret of Regnery's success is they know who they are ...

ROSS (seated at table with unidentified man, looking through book): Test yourself. I don't know if that really worked.

WALLACE (voice-over): ... a bunch of conservatives working with conservatives on conservative topics, creating a special brand.

WALLACE (seated, interviewing Ross): So, if someone picks up a Regnery book, what are they picking up?

ROSS: A pretty broadly defined, conservative set of core values: Free market, free enterprise, pro-democracy, family values, traditional values.

VIDEOCLIP OF John O'Neill at May 2004 National Press Club news conference. WALLACE (voice-over): Which brings us back to John O'Neill who called Ross last May with the idea for a book in which some of John Kerry's fellow Swift Boat Veterans would debunk his record in Vietnam. But Ross didn't think it would be a big success and planned to print only 55,000 copies.

ROSS: I remember sitting in my living room with my husband watching the Democratic National Convention and seeing John Kerry get up to give his acceptance speech.

VIDEOCLIP of John Kerry at Democratic Convention: "I'm John Kerry and I'm (salutes) reporting for duty!" [end clip.]

ROSS: ... and I turned to my husband and said "I just sold a lot of books." (Wallace and Ross laugh.)

WALLACE (voice-over): Ross has a few rules for selling books. She says it's like a political campaign in which it's much better to get on the front page than the book review and no matter how worthy the book is, the author must be good on TV.

WALLACE (to Ross): What drives you more - politics or profits?

ROSS: It is our profitability and our business success that allows us to do the conservative mission part of our job.

WALLACE: So you don't just believe in the free market, you live it?

ROSS (laughs): I do. That's right.

WALLACE: Regnery's first book this year is "Winning the Future" by former House Speaker and Fox News Contributor Newt Gingrich and, yes, it's number ten on the New York Times Bestseller list!

COMMENT

Boy, Marji Ross has it easy.

Back in the 70's, when I did book publicity for Doubleday, it was dog eat dog and a fight for every scrap of free publicity. We'd have killed for a massive machine like the one she can tap into, a selling juggernaut that includes a major cable news network (FOX), 1200 radio stations (Clear Channel), 62 radio/TV stations (Sinclair) and the internet (Free Republic, News Max).

Take away all the self-replenishing support mechanisms and throw their titles into true competition on the open market and I guarantee you Regnery's sales volume would plummet.

Remember, she even admits this herself: "Whether it was FOX News or conservative talk radio, there was such a better avenue for us to promote our books and get the message out."

Gimme a break! Ms. Ross lives in a carefully controlled cocoon and wouldn't know a free market if she fell over one!


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