There used to be a saying, "all publicity is good publicity." For monologist Mike Daisey, that doesn't seem to be the case -- at least in terms of book sales.
Daisey is the performer whose work "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" was excerpted on public radio's "This American Life" in February; its harsh critique of Foxxcon, a Chinese factory that makes Apple products, made it the most-downloaded program in "This American Life's" history.
But that was just the beginning; news broke Friday that "Marketplace" reporter Rob Schmitz started looking into Daisey's tale and found it to include portions that were represented as facts that had been embroidered and invented. "This American Life," which had presented it as journalism, ran an hourlong show called "Retraction" this weekend, which included an interview with Schmitz and host Ira Glass confronting Daisey about how he represented the piece to the program's staff, and about the piece itself.
The retraction and re-examination of Daisey's piece have meant that a tremendous amount of attention has been turned his way. For a time, "This American Life's" servers were so swamped the site went down. A search in Google News turns up more than 1,550 articles, all posted in the last 96 hours, with stories from major outlets including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Associated Press, Forbes, CNN, Slate and the New York Times.
All that coverage -- shouldn't it lead people to buy his books? Daisey published "21 Dog Years: Doing Time @Amazon.com" with the Free Press back in 2002; it came out in paperback in 2003. It's an adaptation of a stage show he was performing in Seattle in 2001, describing three years he spent working at Amazon. Or, as Gawker points out, possibly dramatically enhancing the three years he spent working at Amazon.
Creative license notwithstanding, Daisey is one heck of a storyteller; I heard his original Foxconn piece broadcast on "This American Life" and found it arresting.
Daisey's notoriety, and that promise of a good (if possibly exaggerated) tale, might be enough to lure readers; a decade ago, "21 Dog Years" was successful, published in both hardcover and paperback.
Now, either can be purchased on Amazon for less than $6. It may have moved up in Amazon's sales rankings, but only to position #533,976 in Books -- not very high. No reader has reviewed the book on Amazon since 2009. And secondary vendors at Barnes & Noble online are selling the hardcover for just 99 cents.
All that attention, and what does he get? Not book sales, at least, not yet.
Daisey, who is a practictioner of documentary theater that includes broad dramatic license, addresses his audiences on his blog. "It's you that I owe the most to. I want you all to know that I will not go silent—I will be making a full accounting of this work, shining a light through this monologue and telling the story of its origins, construction, and details." Which might well mean a theater production about his recent experiences -- and maybe even a book.
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Photo: Mike Daisey performing at the Speakeasy Cafe in Seattle in 2001. Credit: Associated Press.