The sudden success of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House has publisher Henry Holt rushing back to press. And while booksellers eagerly await the new printing, overwhelming demand for the book has also put pressure on libraries, many of which were also caught by surprise and are now seeing wait lists for the book that rival all-time bestsellers like Harry Potter and Fifty Shades of Grey.
“From city to city, it’s almost always the same story,” said PW columnist Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains (N.Y.) Public Library, who spent some time over the weekend checking into the book’s availability in libraries nationwide. “No copies, only a few dozen on order, surging numbers of holds.”
For example, on Sunday, January 7—two days after the book was published—the Chicago Public Library showed no physical copies, no e-book copies, and only 12 print books on order, with more than 800 holds. The Boston Public Library showed a mere 12 copies on order as of Sunday, with 236 holds. The San Diego Public Library had no print copies, and 36 on order despite more than 400 holds. And the New York Public Library system has a growing holds list of 1,688, with the wait for an e-book edition at NYPL currently about four months.
“I’ve been in the book business for 28 years, and I cannot remember anything ramping up quite this quickly,” says Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library collection development manager Wendy Bartlett. “We had an original order on the hardcover of 28 copies, one for each branch. Our holds [on Monday morning] were 663. We have 500 copies on order, but as often happens with a book that explodes like this, the publisher is out of stock.”
The demand extends beyond the big cities. Jill Clements, supervisor of adult and reference services at the Watertown Free Public Library in Watertown, Mass., said she watched with astonishment as requests for the book skyrocketed last week at the 43 libraries in suburban Boston’s Minuteman Library Network.
“Wednesday morning when I got into the library there were seven holds in the Minuteman Library Network,” said Clements. By Saturday afternoon, there were 815 requests.” 20 of those requests came in to her library, in Watertown.
The Bullhead City Library in Arizona reported 26 patrons on their wait list over the weekend. Located 90 miles south of Las Vegas, Bullhead City, has a comparable population to Watertown.
Interest in Wolff’s Fire Fury spiked after an adaptation was published in New York Magazine on January 3, which generated headlines, and a letter from Trump’s lawyers last week demanding that Holt stop publication of the book. Instead, Holt moved the publication date up from Tuesday, January 9 to last Friday. And like many bookstores, the book’s sudden popularity caught libraries unprepared.
“Since Fire and Fury was embargoed, it didn’t go through the normal review channels, which means it didn’t readily pop up in front of collection development librarians. And if they didn’t previously order it, there wasn’t a record for it in the catalog for users to attach holds to, which is a useful mechanism for gauging interest in a title,” Kenney explains.
“It was not a major release and was not on most buyer’s radars,” Clements agrees. In the Minuteman Network, she says, only two libraries had ordered a copy before last week.
Clements, told PW she had since ordered seven copies: five to be put in circulation and two for in-library use. Fellow Minuteman libraries in Newton and Cambridge, Mass. have ordered 35 and 30 copies respectively.
Clements says she will likely end up ordering more, but adds that caution is warranted. With backorders to wholesalers reaching into the tens of thousands, those orders “are not getting filled anytime soon,” Clements believes, and demand could drop if the books take too long to arrive. “Until we see that [wholesalers] will actually be able to fill the orders, I may hold off.” And as a backup, Watertown has also turned to Amazon, hoping those copies might arrive faster (although at press time Amazon is also currently out of stock).
At Back Mountain Memorial Library in Dallas, Penn., a small borough in Luzerne County, a librarian said the library had placed an order for a single copy on Friday—and had not considered buying the book before then. “It wasn’t ordered until it suddenly became massively popular,” said the librarian.
Some libraries are trying to meet skyrocketing demand with with e-book and audio editions. However, “not everyone is willing to dip their toes into the digital pool,” Clements concedes. And, of course, the library e-books are much more expensive than print copies for libraries: $60 per e-book copy, metered for 52 lends or two years, whichever comes first.
Bartlett told PW that Cuyahoga had 152 e-book copies going into the weekend, and since “we don’t need to wait for the printing presses,” she ordered 200 more on Sunday. “We had 532 holds,” Bartlett says, “thanks to those new copies, that’s now down to 352 this morning.”
Not all libraries are doing the same. Whether due to lower demand, or a concern about long delivery times outpacing demand, libraries in Torrington, Conn. and Wilkes Barre, Penn. told PW they have not placed any orders for the book at all.
Kenney, meanwhile, says it is important that libraries find a way to meet demand, despite the challenging way the book was rolled out by Holt. Though he concedes that Holt’s publication of Fire and Fury is “a textbook example of publication as cultural phenomenon,” he says librarians still bear some responsibility for disappointing their patrons, as the book had been listed in systems like Edelweiss for months, and there had been “plenty of hype” in the press.
“Every few years a book comes along that generates such intense interest it gives libraries a powerful opportunity to connect with their public,” Kenney says. “Michael Wolff plus Donald Trump should have raised alarm bells in any collection development librarian.”