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Volume 21 No. 2
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‘League of Denial’ sales lag, despite publicity

“League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth,” the heavily hyped book on the NFL’s response to concussions, has dominated conversations since its early October release. What it has not done is dominate book sales.

Since its release on Oct. 8, the book has sold fewer than 10,000 print copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, placing it well outside the top 200 books sold. “League of Denial” sold 3,300 copies in its first week, which made it for that week the No. 1 sports and recreation seller, according to Nielsen. Currently, it ranks 19th in that category for the year, with 9,400 sales.

Publishing industry experts expressed surprise the figures were not higher, given the publicity and promotion surrounding the book, including a companion documentary on PBS. The book contends the league ignored the scientific evidence that players’ head injuries and concussions led to enduring health problems.

“I would say at least 50,000 is what I would have expected,” said Ian Kleinert, a co-founder of the literary agency Objective Entertainment. “Football fans must not want to hear about this stuff because it makes them feel guilty watching.”

Another publishing expert, who has represented authors, also characterized the reported sales as low, but requested anonymity not wanting to anger the publisher.

The writers of the book, brothers Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, enjoyed a publishing hit with “Game of Shadows” in 2007, which featured the Balco scandal and alleged steroid use by Barry Bonds. Given that track record, Kleinert said 10,000 copies is not what the publisher would have expected.

“League of Denial” was published by Crown Archetype, a Random House group. In a statement, Random House contended that Nielsen BookScan’s figures represent less than half of total sales.

“We have looked into the complete sales history for the book including sales in multiple formats, print books and e-books, and have calculated that actual sales to date are in excess of 21,000 copies: print and e-book editions combined.”

Nielsen BookScan is believed to cover 85 percent of the print book market.

The Random House statement also suggested that some books have a message that is more important than just how many copies are sold.

“‘League of Denial’ brought a voice to an important issue in professional sports that is not going away,” the publisher said. “Since the book’s publication we have heard that it has had influence on how colleges and high schools are looking at their football programs. We have also heard from several important neuroscience journals who were eager to learn of the authors’ reporting.

“That being said, we take great pride in publishing such a powerful work of investigative journalism in book form, and we expect the book to continue to sell well into the new year, and to be a focal point in many future discussions about head injuries in professional football.”

There may be another opportunity ahead for consumers to take in the message, as well. Last week, reported plans are afoot to turn the book into a movie.