Does Glenn Beck really not "make any money" from promoting books?

Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI & JESS LEVIN

During his big 9-12 Project special in March of last year, Glenn Beck told Fox News viewers, "I've got a couple of books for you that you can start. This one is called 'The 5,000-Year Leap.' It is fantastic." Beck added: "I want you to know I don't make any money on these things."

But Beck's suggestion that he doesn't "make any money" from promoting books appears to be highly misleading, if not outright false. Glenn Beck's websites direct fans to buy books on Amazon.com through its affiliates program, which gives referral fees for every product purchased. In other words, Beck's company likely receives a commission from Amazon anytime a fan purchases a book through Beck's websites.

Beck's Reading Lists

The912project.com and GlennBeck.com, which are both owned by Beck's production company Mercury Radio Arts, Inc., contain reading lists that direct readers to buy books through Amazon Associates.

Amazon Associates, the "web's most popular and successful Affiliate Program," allows third-party websites to make money from successfully referring Amazon.com products to readers. The program is used by countless websites and political bloggers, both conservative and liberal; indeed, when I (Eric) had a blog in college, I used and received money from the program (though I didn't claim to not make any money from recommending books).

Fox News' website for Beck features a "Beck's Reading List" section:

FoxNews.com directs readers to a page on the912project.com's website listing numerous books mentioned and promoted by Beck. Each book has its own section, and links are provided for readers to "Learn More at Amazon.com," and "Buy Now." For instance, the following is what's shown for the 5,000 Year Leap when one moves a mouse over the "Learn More" link:

The link for 5,000 Years' Amazon page, http://www.amazon.com/dp/0981559662?_encoding=UTF8&tag=glennbeckcom-20&linkCode=as3&camp=15041&creative=373501, contains the tag "glennbeckcom," which is the unique ID for the Amazon Associates program. The tag is necessary for Amazon to track referrals and commissions for individual associates.

GlennBeck.com also features a "Books From The Show" section that contains links to Amazon with the "glennbeckcom" associates tag:

The above section is an embedded feature from Amazon's aStore, which allows associates to "create a professional online store, in minutes and without the need for programming skills, that can be embedded within or linked to from your website." GlennBeck.com's aStore can also be found here.

When Beck mentions books on his radio program, his website regularly links to an Amazon.com page (with its affiliates tag) for fans to buy the book. For instance, when Beck promoted author Brad Thor's novel The First Commandment on his radio program in March 2008, GlennBeck.com linked to the Amazon page for the book under the text, "Buy Now":

Since Amazon Associates commission sales aren't public information, it's not clear how much money the "glennbeckcom" affiliates account makes, or whether all of the revenue goes to Beck's production company.

Commissions for associates vary depending on the type of product, and its sales volume. For example, if 10,000 copies of The 5,000-Year Leap are bought through Beck's website in the month of July, "glennbeckcom" would receive an 8.5% commission from the $12.92 sales price, or approximately $10,982. However, commissions aren't exclusive just to the product that's linked. Amazon states that they'll pay fees for any qualifying product that a customer purchases during a session "following the customer's initial click-through." In other words, if a GlennBeck.com reader clicks on a link for The 5,000 Year Leap, and decides to also buy another book and DVD, "glennbeckcom" receives commissions for all three products.

According to an April Forbes profile, Mercury Radio Arts "pulled in $32 million in revenue during the 12 months that ended March 1." That includes $4 million for Beck's digital efforts:

Digital: $4 million

Includes an advertiser-supported Web site, which garners 5 million monthly unique visitors, plus an ad-supported e-mail newsletter boasting 1.1 million subscribers.

Fifty thousand subscribers to Insider and Insider Extreme Web services, paying on average $80 per year. Hats, mugs and other merchandise pulled in approximately $1 million.

Beck's book promotions influence

Beck has gained notice from the publishing industry for his ability to drive online book sales. A June 10 Publishers Weekly article reported that after "a recommendation from TV talk show host Glenn Beck on Tuesday, The University of Chicago Press found itself in an unprecedented position: number one in Amazon and Barnes &Noble's sales rankings with F. A. Hayek's anti-big government book The Road to Serfdom." A July 11 New York Times article reported that since Beck promoted the book, "100,000 copies have been sold."

GlennBeck.com and the912project.com link to Road to Serfdom's Amazon page through the affiliates program.

Beck frequently touts books on his Fox News program. For instance, according to a Nexis search, the 5,000-Year Leap has been mentioned 13 times since March 9, 2009. The Road to Serfdom has been mentioned three times since June 7.

In June, Beck told USA Today, "We sell books hand over fist. I challenge you to find a group of people that read as many and as eclectic books as our audience does."

As he did in his USA Today interview, Beck regularly boasts about his book-selling ability on his Fox News program. On May 20, Beck said: "I have to tell you something. This is the most amazing audience I think ever in television. Yesterday, I showed you that 17 of the top 25 books on Amazon.com, the Movers & Shakers, were books that we talked about on this program -- books that were related to the founders, faith and Constitution. You are changing the dynamics in America."

And on March 20, 2009, on week after he said, "I want you to know I don't make any money on these things," Beck said: "The 5,000-Year Leap, a book that has been out for 30 years, I mentioned it last week - last week this Friday. And now, it is still number one on Amazon.com. It is an amazing thing. America is changing."

From the March 13, 2009, edition of Fox News' Glenn Beck:

Network/Outlet
Fox News Channel
Person
Glenn Beck
Show/Publication
Glenn Beck Program
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