STEPHEN BATTAGLIO Los Angeles Times
Shannon Bream, an anchor on Fox News, does not get into the kinds of noise-making controversies that propel the careers of the conservative-leaning news channel’s hosts. She provides straight ahead coverage of the Supreme Court, her beat at the channel, and has a nightly newscast airing at midnight on the East Coast.
Bream is never in the line of fire when media critics cite the network for the provocative stances and right-wing rhetoric dispensed on its prime time opinion shows. But even with a lower profile, she has become a best-selling author, capturing two slots on the New York Times list of best-selling advice, how-to and miscellaneous books for the week ending April 2: Her new release, “The Mothers and Daughters of the Bible Speak, “ranked at No. 2, its forerunner “The Women of the Bible Speak” at No. 10.
Both books analyze the stories of female Biblical characters in a conversational style that acknowledges their flaws and shows how faith guided them through crises. Rick Lewis, who owns Logos Bookstore in Dallas, said many of his customers who purchased Bream’s first effort picked up additional copies for a daughter, mother or friend.
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“I think some people may be intimidated and do not want to pick up the Bible and start reading Genesis or Exodus,” Bream said in a recent interview. “But these are beautiful and compelling stories, and I feel like if we can put them in this format where people get to know and understand these characters and say ‘I can relate to what that woman is going through’ – it makes them feel less alone. “
Bream’s book is the fourth straight title from Fox News Books – an imprint at parent company Fox Corp.’s publishing conglomerate HarperCollins – to hit the bestseller list. Launched in 2020, the outfit offers its books the full promotional clout of the most-watched cable news channel. Its four releases have totaled more than 1 million copies in under two years, according to the company.
The imprint is part of a companywide effort to expand Fox News beyond the realm of news and political talk, which can be a turnoff to some advertisers. Fox News Media Chief Executive Suzanne Scott and her bosses at parent Fox Corp. have said they want the division – which accounts for around 80% of the company’s profits – to be a lifestyle and entertainment brand that appeals to politically right-of-center Americans.
“Transcending news is what this is about,” said Jason Klarman, executive vice president of marketing at Fox News. “Our audience is looking for us to curate other things for them besides the news and opinion of the day. We’re using Fox Nation and this imprint to explore that.”
Such a transformation will be a tall order. While provocative hosts such as Tucker Carlson bring the channel its largest ratings, dominating the competition from NBCUniversal’s MSNBC and Warner Bros. Discovery’s CNN, they are polarizing. Fox News hosts’ commentary on the insurrection and amplification of former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged were factors when its longtime Washington anchor Chris Wallace decided to bolt the channel last year to join CNN’s streaming service.
But the network captures more than half of the audience watching cable news. While Fox News has long been a safe space for Republicans, Nielsen data show the channel reaches a substantial number of viewers who identify themselves as Democrats and independents.
In the month before Bream’s book was released, the author did segments about it on her nightly program and others across the network such as the “The Five,” which averages more than 3 million viewers a day. Based on Nielsen data, the segments reached 22 million viewers at no cost to the publisher. There were also plugs during the channel’s commercial breaks, on radio feeds and at FoxNews.com, while paid marketing targeted church groups and faith-based media outlets.
“Shannon is getting the full support of the Fox marketing machine,” said Klarman.
Marissa Eigenbrood, senior vice president of Smith Publicity, a Cherry Hill, NJ-based firm specializing in books, said Bream’s sales success with a title that delves into Scripture is a testament to Fox News’ promotional muscle. “There is a hungry market for stories that add faith and spirituality, but it gets more limited when it moves into the Bible,” she said. “They have really nailed it in knowing who their audience is.”
Media conglomerates using their TV networks to push books from their publishing divisions is nothing new. Big-name authors for Paramount Global’s Simon & Schuster are often featured on the company’s CBS News shows, including “60 Minutes,” which is still among the most-watched non-sports TV programs of the week.
But Fox News Books takes the process several steps further. The company’s marketing department develops the book ideas, matches them up with on-air talent who write them and then features the titles prominently across the network’s programs. The imprint is distributed by HarperCollins’ Broadside Books, which specializes in titles aimed at conservative audiences.
Most of the channel’s biggest stars, including Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Greg Gutfeld, have their own preexisting deals with other publishers, and on-air talent is still free to pursue contracts with outside companies. But Fox News Books is promising in-house authors massive on-air support, improving their chances of landing on the bestseller list.
In return, Fox News reaps the financial rewards from sales and owns the copyrights to the titles, which Fox uses to develop companion shows on its streaming service, Fox Nation. The company has up to five titles in the pipeline through next year.
The channel has been consistent in understanding the traditional values held by much of its audience, which also happens to buy a lot of nonfiction books. Fox News Books is trying to tap into that worldview with a focus on “faith, family and patriotism,” according to Klarman.
Marji Ross, the former head of the conservative publishing house Regnery, who serves as a consultant to Fox News Books, said the channel’s strong connection to its audience is a valuable tool for moving copies off the shelf.
“At Regnery, we would often see authors could go on the ‘Today’ show and not sell as many books as they did when going on a show where the audience trusted and really paid attention to what the host and network is saying,” Ross said. “The Fox News audience feels respected and appreciated and do not feel like their values are being mocked or criticized or ignored.”
The imprint – which plans four books this year and another four in 2023 – is following the model of Fox Nation, the streaming service launched in 2018 that has attracted more than 1 million paying subscribers, according to analyst estimates, with nonfiction programming and films that share a distinctly non-woke perspective.
Fox Nation does stream programs aimed at the Trump-supporting diehards – most notably a widely criticized Carlson-produced documentary that suggested the FBI instigated the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol. The service still carries an independently produced series from Lara Logan, even though she no longer appears as a guest on Fox News after comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to Nazi was criminal Josef Mengele.
But most Fox Nation shows are positive, celebratory looks at American life. It recently added a special hosted program by Kathie Lee Gifford called “The Jesus I Know,” in which she interviews other show business types about their Christian beliefs. The company recently signed Kevin Costner to host a four-part documentary series on the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone Park.
It was the Fox Nation series “Modern Warriors” that launched Fox News in the book publishing business. Featuring first-person accounts by US war veterans, the program was adapted into a book by Pete Hesgeth, who served in Iraq and is co-host of “Fox & Friends Weekend.”
The imprint followed up with a collection of Christmas stories from another “Fox & Friends Weekend” co-host, Rachel Campos-Duffy, and her husband, Sean Duffy, a former Republican congressman and frequent contributor on the channel.
The book, “All American Christmas,” gathered recipes and holiday traditions from the Duffys and other Fox News personalities – all of whom discussed their contributions on the air. It sold more than 200,000 copies.
Bream has already blown through that number with her first Bible-related book, which finished 2021 as BookScan’s 10th bestselling title, with more than 500,000 copies sold. The sequel sold more than 56,000 in its first week.
Bream is a graduate of Liberty University, an Evangelical school, and has always been upfront about her Christianity, leading Fox News Books to come to her with the idea of writing a faith-based book.
“It was such a smart move knowing that so many people in our audience are very faithful people, and this is sort of a gift to them in a way,” said Bream. “I’m just glad to be sort of the vessel and the messenger for it.”
Klarman said Fox News Books is not depending on bulk purchases by special interest groups or institutions, which are frequently used to drive the sales of conservative political books. (While Fox News Books has stayed away from politics titles so far, Klarman does not rule publishing them out in the future.)
Fox News did purchase around 10% of its books to offer as premiums to attract Fox Nation subscribers. But that will not be the case with Bream’s sequel, which has already generated enough sales for the imprint to plan a third Bible related title.
Crowds at Bream’s live book appearances have been the largest in places where Fox News is extremely popular – the South, Texas and the Florida retirement community known as The Villages. But Bream has also found fans during promotional visits in the deep blue state of California.
“I find it hilarious that people will sort of pull me aside and say almost in a whisper, ‘Hey, we watch you every night,'” Bream said. “I like ‘it’s OK, you do not have to whisper . ‘ “