On Monday, Bob Woodward’s latest book, Obama’s War, will hit stores in Washington, D.C., and everywhere else. As so often happens with high-profile political releases — in fact, I talked about this in my recent story on the digital leaking of Jimmy Carter’s White House Diary — a media outlet got an early copy of Woodward’s book and ran a story summarizing its juiciest details.
As so often happens, that outlet was The New York Times. Politico’s Keach Hagey has a great story on how it all went down, a story in which she kindly quoted me. The only thing I’d add to Hagey’s take is that this sort of thing has a long and equally intense history. Take Woodward (and Carl Bernstein’s) first book, All The President’s Men. It came out on June 17, 1974, but by early April newspapers across the country were running multiple-page stories summarizing the excerpts in Playboy. (The magazine paid $20,000 for two long excerpts from All The President’s Men, which ran in the May and June issues.) Books get fewer big serialization deals these days — I’d guess the online circulation of both the serializations and the summaries had more to do with this than the stories themselves — so the summaries now latch on to the books. And this happens with all kinds of political books: the Times got there first with Bill Clinton’s memoirs, Laura Bush’s memoirs, and Woodward’s last book, to name only a few.
What is new — and pretty fascinating — is the way new media are interacting with books. My story about Carter’s diary and Google Books is one example. Another is Politico’s Woodward fixation: the publication ran 8 separate insider-y stories on Obama’s Wars in the first two days after the Times‘ scoop. That hype sounds unbeatable — until you remember that Woodward and Bernstein sold the movie rights to All The President’s Men a full three months before its release.