'Paterno' book sales drop off

Updated: October 6, 2012, 2:07 AM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

It was a New York Times best-seller for a month, but sales of "Paterno" have dropped off.

The book went on sale Aug. 21 and has only sold 29,000 copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan, which tracks sales in all outlets except Walmart.

In the first week alone, 11,439 copies of the biography of former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, written by Joe Posnanski, were sold, according to Nielsen. But the second week saw a 42 percent drop in sales to only 6,623 copies sold.

Simon & Schuster published a first printing of 100,000 copies.

"It's clearly not the book they thought it was going to be when they bought it," said Jim Milliot, co-editorial director at Publisher's Weekly, a trade publication that covers the industry.

Milliot said that while the sale cycle is not finished, the early numbers show the book doesn't even look like it will have life to make it through the college football season.

"It's definitely a disappointment," Milliot said.

Michael Fox, owner of Joseph Fox Bookstore, an independent bookstore in Philadelphia, originally didn't carry the book because he didn't want the negative association with what happened at Penn State. But Fox said he changed his tune the more he read about the case and the fact that some of his customers asked for the book.

"We sold some of them," Fox said. "If all that hadn't come out, I'm sure they would have sold out of their first printing and then gone back to print again. They probably thought it was going to be the sports book of the year and they probably would have been right."

The book debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller hardcover nonfiction list Sept. 9. It fell to No. 5, No. 12 and No. 17, respectively, over the next three weeks. It will be off the list as of this week.

At stores near the Penn State campus, the book has sold relatively well. John Lindo, general manager of the unaffiliated The Student Bookstore, sold out of 40 copies on the first day it was on the shelves. Since then he has sold another 360 copies and expects to sell the final 20 he has in stock when the crowds come into his store as part of homecoming this weekend.

"It did fine for us," Lindo said. "We'll order more and we will continue selling it."

Lindo did say he thought he sold fewer copies because the market was saturated with so many copies.

"It was being sold everywhere," Lindo said.

An executive with Simon & Schuster, meanwhile, said she is pleased with the book's sales.

"We are very happy with the sales to date for Joe Posnanski's 'Paterno,'" Kelly Welsh, a senior publicity manager for the imprint, said in a statement provided to ESPN.com. "It is selling well in both print and digital formats, we are receiving positive feedback from our retail partners about how the book is performing in their venues, and we have plans in place to promote the book through the holidays."

Milliot said the holidays could give the book another run, but that there's nothing else that can happen that would naturally help the book be more successful.

When Posnanski sold the book to Simon & Schuster, Paterno was still the football coach. Since then, his legacy has been tarnished, wrapped up in the child sexual abuse scandal involving his former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky was found guilty on 45 of 48 counts in August and awaits sentencing next week. Paterno died from lung cancer in January.

Welsh insists it's still early in the book's life cycle.

"We think that 'Paterno' is proving to be the definitive biography and the fullest description we will ever have of the man's character and career, and it is well positioned to continue selling strongly in the near future and on Simon & Schuster's backlist for years to come," Welsh said.

One challenge for the book will come when others enter the market. A few weeks ago, imprint Ballantine Bantam Dell said it had a book deal with Jerry Sandusky's Victim No. 1. The book, entitled "Silent No More," is set to hit stores Oct. 23. The victim is expected to reveal his identity to ABC's Chris Cuomo on the day of the book's release.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter

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