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O.J. Simpson, And The Difference Between The Book Biz And The TV Biz

Posted by: Jon Fine on November 21, 2006

News Corp. made a number of stunning miscalculations in the handling of O.J. Simpson’s sort-of-confessional If I Did It, and chief among them is that it forgot the difference between the book business and the TV business.

The book business depends solely on the consumer, and gets goods to them through a network of merchants that, unsurprisingly, have a very strong sense of the First Amendment. A book as nakedly repulsive as O.J.’s could be, say, kept behind the counter and sold only on request. A big chain like Borders could—and did—announce it would sell it, but would donate the proceeds to a non-profit organization for victims of domestic violence.

The network TV business is entirely ad-supported. It’s also dependent on local-market station owners subject to local pressures. And the range of programming that can appear on local stations is far more constricted than what books can be sold in the local bookstore.

Fox lost sight of the fact that the O.J. special—excuse me, that would be two O.J. specials, though why they thought anyone would stick around for both is kinda beyond me—is the sort of thing that would send any advertiser sprinting for the exits. (That they did, by the way, is rather astounding.) Even if they’d scored massive ratings they would have taken a hit in advertiser backlash. So the company couldn’t make much off the broadcast, even with Super Bowl-sized ratings. And that doesn’t even get into the obvious miscalculation that many local Fox affiliates were not going to want to touch this. Art Slusark, the spokesman for Meredith Corp, which owns Fox affiliates, said advertiser reaction was “a thousand to one, with people not wanting to be involved with it.”

(Sudden thought: Who was the one?)

I bet that had Fox dropped the plans for the TV tie-in, the book would have been published through its HarperCollins imprint. Enough booksellers would have weathered the outcry. (And outcry always equals sales.)

All that said, I am surprised that the project was actually called off. And I give it two weeks, max, before another publisher snaps the book up. (UPDATE: Many readers have correctly pointed out that rights issues may preclude a sale elsewhere, and that at least one obvious potential publisher, Michael Viner of Phoenix Books, has said he won’t touch it.)

Reader Comments


November 21, 2006 10:25 AM

and about the same amount of time before someone buys the tv special...not with the hope of selling ads....but with the hope of drawing attention to their operation.
It might be a lesser known cable outlet, it could be a webbased tv operation.
But presumably the special is shot, edited and ready.
And in a couple of weeks, 10 dollars will look better than 0 dollars to whoever actually owns this mess


November 21, 2006 10:52 AM

You're absolutely correct about the differences between the publishing and the TV industries. The whole thing is such a fiasco. Fox scheduled the interviews for Sweeps Week! Even those who would be repulsed at the idea of Simpson's pseudo-confession would be riveted to their television screens. So, why do we have to leave it to a few offended advertisers for anyone to come to their senses? What a society we live in.


November 24, 2006 2:26 AM

Nice blog with interesting comments and actual fact and news. I like it

Art Koff

January 3, 2007 6:16 PM

Regarding "Ready to Get Weird, Advertisers?" Jon Fine said "MySpace isn't reaching its massive audience but identifying and targeting a few thousand highly influential or relevant members This is not as easy as it sounds."

This is certainly the case and particularly for seniors who are not as familiar with the Net as their younger counterparts. We have just started a site to attract older boomers, seniors and reitrees to a forum where they can exchange information and ideas as well as learn about subjects of interest to these groups. Almost without exception we have had seniors question the advantages of signing up. "It is certainly not as easy as it sounds."


July 23, 2007 9:44 AM

I can´t see a difference.
It`s the same!

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