Pauw’s book is flying off shelves countrywide
NEVER has a book launch attracted a large, frenzied crowd as Jacques Pauw’s book did on Wednesday in Hyde Park, north of Johannesburg.
An unusual power outage, for which Eskom later took responsibility, could not dampen the spirits of the throngs who wanted to hear the author speak and buy the book. The Exclusive Books outlet did a roaring trade on the day as the book flew off the shelves.
The President’s Keepers: Those Keeping Zuma In Power And Out Of Prison will do a lot more for the book industry, especially in ramping up the sales figures. South Africa is not really a reading nation. Statistics have shown that only a negligible number of the nation’s 53 million citizens buy and own books. Only 14% read books.
Generally, the book industry considers 5 000 copies a fairly decent figure in terms of sales.
Ziel Bergh, sales manager at Penguin Random House SA, says they “generally consider a book a best-seller once it has sold over 10 000 copies”.
Janine Daniel, marketing and publicity manager at Jacana Books, says: “My personal feeling is the best-seller number needs to be re-thought. Fiction in South Africa often does not even get to a total lifetime sales figure of 1 000 books.
“And these days it’s not unusual for a non-fiction title, from people such as Trevor Noah, Jacques Pauw or Hennie van Vuuren, to achieve lifetime sales of 20 000 to 40 000. Somehow, cookery titles published only in Afrikaans sell in staggering amounts – and don’t forget self-help books.
“The Secret has sold more than that 180 000 copies in South Africa, but was published in 2006. The Real Meal Revolution is also over the 150 000 mark and The Monk who Sold his Ferrari is now over the 100 000 mark.”
Andrea Nattrass, publisher at Pan Macmillan, agrees: “When publishing a non-fiction title in the local market we would in past years have considered a best-seller to be a book that sells over 5 000 copies.” NB Publishers, which published Pauw’s book, says: “Since its release on October 29, more than 25 000 books have already been sold in SA book stores, and more than 50 000 are on order.”
The President’s Keepers is the fastest-selling book in South Africa since official Nielsen data began in 2004, the publisher says.
So, despite the many feathers it has ruffled, Pauw’s book is likely to go down in literary history as the best thing that ever happened to the book trade in the country. The legal shadow-boxing between lawyers representing the State Security Agency (SSA) and NB Publishers makes for fascinating reading.
It’s nothing like the meek surrender displayed in late July when Penguin Random House was forced to withdraw Mandela’s Last Years after his widow, Graca Machel, threatened legal action.
Machel had condemned the book, saying it was a breach of “patient-doctor confidentiality”, IOL reported at the time. Punted as “the true story of Nelson Mandela’s final journey by the head of his medical team”, the book, written by Dr Vejay Ramlakan, died a premature death.
The President’s Keepers is a whole new kettle of fish. Author Pauw, his publishers and lawyers – Willem de Klerk Attorneys – are fighting fire with fire.
The SSA reportedly laid charges at the Lyttelton police station on Wednesday.
According to the publisher, “police have not been able to confirm the nature of the charges … they say there are two separate complainants. Instead of investigating what Pauw’s explosive new book reveals about the agency – including that millions of rand of taxpayers’ money was blown on a bogus parallel intelligence network – the SSA has chosen to ‘shoot the messenger’. Nevertheless, Pauw will co-operate with the authorities should they wish to engage with him.
“Pauw, who exposed the apartheid-era Vlakplaas death squads, is one of South Africa’s most respected investigative journalists and NB Publishers stands by our courageous author and our book,” it said. “We have refused to bow to the pressure – and will continue to do so.”
The SSA lawyer’s demand that NB Publishers “cease and desist from making your book available to the public and/or publishers” has met with defiance.
Willem de Klerk Attorneys threw the book at SSA: “There can be no basis for an urgent court application to prevent the further distribution of the book. Your client waited the best part of a week before making its demand, and then set a five-day deadline for a response. In the words of Sutherland J, ‘the metaphor of the horse having bolted is inadequate; a better image might be that a virus has infected the world’s literate population’.
“Any attempt by the State Security Agency to prevent the further dissemination of the book would serve no rational purpose. As you will be aware courts do not, as a matter of policy, make orders which do not serve a purpose or to which effect cannot be given.
“Your generalised statement that the book is ‘replete with inaccuracies’ is not backed by a single reference to any specific statement in the book that is alleged to be inaccurate. Your demand for a retraction ‘of all those parts which are inaccurate’ is therefore incongruous.
“It is furthermore unclear how you reconcile an allegation of falsity, on the one hand, with an alleged violation of statutory provisions on the other.”
In the first few days since it hit the shelves, the book sold 16 507 print copies and 5 127 ebooks.
And the tills are still ringing.