If you publish it, will it sell?
That’s what Simon & Schuster is wondering, as its Joe Paterno biography, simply called "Paterno," hits shelves on Tuesday.
The publisher bought the book, written by sports writer Joe Posnanski, well before the sexual abuse scandal involving Paterno’s longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky led to the firing of the iconic Penn State coach.
Posnanski does include much of Paterno’s view of the story up until the coach’s death after a two-month battle with lung cancer on Jan. 23. But the question is whether there’s enough in the book that is fresh or that people care about now that Paterno is seen in a much different light. The New York Times, in its review, called the book “breezy and largely sympathetic."
The earliest indications for the publisher are positive, as the book leaped to No. 16 on Amazon’s best-selling books list by midday Tuesday. By late Tuesday, it hit No. 12 on the list, passing F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby." The Paterno book has been in the top 100 on the site for the past week.
For its part, Simon & Schuster cut some planned appearances by Posnanski, who was reportedly paid a $750,000 advance for the title, with only a date in Kansas City, Mo., currently on his book tour. Posnanski was formerly a columnist at the Kansas City Star. Kelly Welsh, a senior publicity manager for the book imprint, said that Simon & Schuster hopes to add more dates in the coming weeks. But there’s no doubt that the philosophy on marketing the book right now is that “less is more.”
Aside from writing a column this week in USA Today, Posnanski has been relatively quiet. He’s active on Twitter but has tweeted only once about Paterno in the 212 days since his death. He also hasn’t been widely available, as is customary for authors around a book’s publishing date.
"My goal for the book is that people will give it a fair read as an honest and accurate portrayal so that people can decide for themselves who this man really was,” Posnanski said in a statement provided to ESPN through Welsh.
If the book is to sell out of its first printing of 100,000 copies, it obviously must sell well around State College, Pa.
John Lindo, general manager of The Student Bookstore near the Penn State campus, said he sold out of the 40 copies he put out on the shelves on Tuesday.
“It hasn’t exactly been a rush,” Lindo said. “It has been more of a media rush than anything, with TV stations coming by seeing if anyone was going to buy it.”
Lindo said he’ll have another 80 copies in his store Wednesday, but the true indication of the book’s sales, for him at least, figures to come in two weeks for Penn State's football home opener against Ohio.
The 416-page book is not cheap. It retails for $28, though Amazon sells it for 40 percent off, a standard discount off the listed price for the world’s top bookseller.