Courting Clinton

Bookstores Jockey For Spot on Ex-President’s Tour

Posted July 12, 2004 at 3:13pm

Last week two lucky Washington, D.C., book dealers were graced with both the prestige and the profits that came with hosting former President Bill Clinton for in-store book signings.

Clinton inevitably draws huge crowds and colorful media attention wherever he goes, and for both Politics & Prose and the Barnes & Noble Bookseller at 12th Street Northwest, that made last week a very good week to be in the book business.

But for every store that scores a Clinton book tour stop (20 such visits have been officially scheduled so far, according to Clinton’s Web site), there are hundreds of other book shops that tried unsuccessfully to schedule the former president for an in-store appearance. And according to Clinton’s publishing company, choosing the stops on the former president’s book tour has itself become a bit of a game of politics.

“Every book store in America considers themselves a friend of Bill Clinton, and it seems as if every bookstore wrote in expressing interest in posting an appearance,” said Paul Bogaards, who handles Clinton’s schedule as executive director of publicity for Alfred A. Knopf publishing company (a division of Random House Inc., which is distributing Clinton’s “My Life”).

“We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of requests, every one of them worthy, and the vetting process has been difficult,” added Bogaards.

Although Bogaards said his group didn’t ask for formal proposals from booksellers, requests poured in, and he and a team that included Clinton staffers spent weeks sorting through the submissions.

“We made a concerted effort to touch all our retail bases,” Bogaards explained, noting that those stores selected represent a variety of book markets, including independent stores, chains, African-American booksellers and club warehouses. “We bent over backwards to keep the playing field level and the process democratic.”

He said that Clinton personally signed off on every stop.

Of the 20 bookstore appearances listed on the Clinton Presidential Center’s Web site, chain stores such as Borders, Barnes & Noble and Bretanos account for five stops; “big-box stores” including Wal-Mart and Costco account for two stops; and smaller chain stores, independent sellers and locations like the Little Rock Statehouse Convention Center account for the rest of Clinton’s stops.

Bogaards said 15 stores in the D.C. area sent in requests for a Clinton appearance and according to Carla Cohen, co-owner of Politics and Prose in Northwest Washington, her store was selected because of its track record and experience in handling these types of events.

“We had a super-organized event,” she said. “We used our entire staff to manage the line and talk to customers, and we’ve gotten an incredible number of customers who have thanked us for” putting on both the midnight party for the release of “My Life” and Clinton’s visit last Tuesday.

But the selection process also disappointed other Washington-area booksellers.

Andy Schuman, owner of the Capitol Hill bookstore Trover Shop, which often hosts political book launches and welcomed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) last year when she signed copies of her memoir, “Living History,” said he was surprised that no Capitol Hill bookstores were selected for President Clinton’s tour.

“It doesn’t make sense to me why he would come to D.C. and stay away from the political part of town,” Schuman said.

“According to everyone we spoke with, [the publishing company] had their hands tied. … We were told that there was a possibility of them coming back to D.C. and that ‘we’ll keep you in mind,’” Schuman said.

And although Bogaards said that no book dates have been planned beyond July, he wouldn’t rule out Clinton swinging back through D.C.

“We want to make the experience a winning one for the reader, for the bookstore and the author,” he assured.