Since January, each book at the top of The New York Times best-seller list has had one thing in common: President Trump.
James Comey’s book “A Higher Loyalty” will surely keep the streak alive. Comey’s high-profile launch is also highlighting Trump’s broader effects on book sales.
The No. 1 spot on The Times’ hardcover nonfiction list is incredibly coveted real estate in the publishing industry. Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” landed there in mid-January thanks to explosive allegations and a full-throated presidential attack.
“Fury” held onto the No. 1 spot until Michael Isikoff and David Corn’s “Russian Roulette” came along in March. The book — subtitled “The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump” — was on top for three weeks.
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There is a caveat about The Times list: Psychologist Jordan Peterson’s book “12 Rules For Life” has been a hot seller for months, and might have ranked No. 1, but because it is published by a Canadian company, it is not counted by the U.S. newspaper.
Link to the rest at CNN
By including this item, PG is not inviting a political war in the Comments section of TPV. There are many other (and better) online locations for those discussions.
Rather, he wonders what this says about Big Publishing and The New York Times bestseller lists.
Whatever his strengths and weaknesses, Mr. Trump did win the 2016 Presidential Election. He did so by winning 30 states with 306 pledged electors out of 538 total electors. The results were known on November 8, 2016, 529 days ago.
Like four previous US Presidents (1824: John Quincy Adams, 1876: Rutherford B. Hayes, 1888: Benjamin Harrison and 2000: George W. Bush) Mr. Trump did not win the country-wide popular vote.
On a state-by-state basis, Ms. Clinton won in the most populous state – California – but Mr. Trump won seven out of the ten most populous states: Texas (#2), Florida (#3), Pennsylvania (#5), Ohio (#7), Georgia (#8), North Carolina (#9) and Michigan (#10).
The large New York publishers behind the anti-Trump bestsellers have not, to PG’s knowledge (he’s happy to be corrected), released any best-selling pro-Trump books or anti-Clinton books.
While it’s no surprise that the New York-based companies hire New York-based employees, the majority of whom quite probably did not vote for Mr. Trump, PG wonders if anyone in New York thought there might be a market for a pro-Trump or anti-Clinton book.
Even before Amazon released constantly-updated bestseller rankings, the methodology behind the New York Times bestseller lists (which is confidential and described only in the most general terms by the paper) was widely-questioned.
In fact, as reported on TPV and elsewhere, it was possible to game the NYT bestseller lists and shadowy companies could (for a fee) guarantee that a book would appear as an NYT bestseller the week it was released. Typically, they accomplished this by using a variety of people to purchase books from retail bookstores known or suspected to be consulted by the Times for its weekly bestseller lists.
The most recent report about such behavior that PG could locate with a quick search was from Vox in September, 2017. Here’s an excerpt:
On August 24, an unknown book by an unknown author from an unknown publisher rocketed its way to first place on the Times’s young adult hardcover best-seller list. But as a scrappy band of investigators who congregated in the YA Twitter community discovered, it wasn’t because a lot of people were reading the book. Handbook for Mortals by Lani Sarem bought its way onto the list, they concluded, with the publisher and author strategically ordering large numbers of the book from stores that report their sales to the New York Times. Shortly thereafter, the Times removed the book from its rankings.
And on September 4, Regnery Books — the conservative publishing imprint that publishes Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza, among others — denounced the New York Times best-seller list as biased against conservatives. Why, it demanded, was D’Souza’s new book The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left ranked as seventh on the Times’s hardcover nonfiction list when Nielsen BookScan’s data, per Regnery’s interpretation, suggested it should be first? Regnery concluded that the New York Times was actively conspiring against conservative titles, and announced that it would sever all ties with the Times.
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Becoming a New York Times best-seller has a measurable effect on a book’s sales, especially for books by debut authors. According to a 2004 study by economics professor Alan Sorensen, appearing on the New York Times’s best-seller list increased debut authors’ sales by 57 percent. On average, it increased sales by 13 or 14 percent.
Besides the list’s effect on sales, it offers prestige. If your book appears on the New York Times list — even just for a week in the last slot of the Advice, How-To & Miscellaneous category — you get to call yourself a New York Times best-seller for the rest of your life. You can put that honor on the cover of all of your other books.
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The author and publisher of Handbook for Mortals reportedly hoped that gaming the New York Times best-seller list would make it easier for them to sell the book’s film rights down the road, which is presumably why they were willing to spend the money to get the book onto the list.
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So all of the different best-seller lists have established their own methodologies to gather sales data — and once they’ve got it, they break it down differently. They put the break between one week and another in different spots (ending on Sunday versus Saturday, for example); they use different categories to sort the lists; they weigh digital and print titles differently.
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It’s widely rumored that independent bookstore sales are weighted more heavily than Walmart sales [by the NYT], for instance, but the Times has never confirmed this. Some observers have also suggested that it weights print sales from traditional publishers more heavily than it does digital sales from digital publishers or self-publishers, because books that do very well on Amazon’s in-house imprints seem to rarely show up on the Times list
Link to the rest at Vox
PG suspects the NYT bestseller list methodology is focused on generating bestselling books that the NYT believes its subscribers would buy (or should buy. Certain NYT bestsellers are notoriously never read. See below. ).
To be clear, PG says the NYT is absolutely free to do this, but might be a bit more upfront about its objectives.
As organizations comprised largely of people who see the world through the NYT, major US publishers are significantly impacted by the NYT. An editor at HarperCollins receives some sort of gold star if one of her books makes the NYT lists. If she consistently has a book or two that make the NYT lists each year, she gains more than a little job security.
On the other hand, even if our theoretical HC editor could credibly claim one of her authors was killing it in Houston, Miami, Cleveland and Charlotte, but, for some unknown reason, hadn’t made the NYT lists, she’s less likely to brag about it to her boss.
As far as NYT bestsellers that are never read, a long time ago, a NYT columnist even wrote about the phenomenon.
The tale of the emperor’s new clothes has been around a long time. But how about defining another category of mass delusion, the emperor’s new book: the insanely popular, often intellectually intimidating book that sells hundreds of thousands of copies (sometimes even millions) but that few people actually read.
The phenomenon of the unread best seller comes to mind because of the recent publication of ”Ravelstein,” Saul Bellow’s novel about the life and death of his friend Allan Bloom. In life, Bloom was a humanities professor well known only in the academy who gained international fame in 1987 after the surprising success of his dense treatise ”The Closing of the American Mind.” To this day, many consider it one of the prime examples of an emperor’s new book.
Another classic example also comes from the 1980’s: Stephen Hawking’s ”Brief History of Time” remains no doubt the most abstruse volume ever to sell nearly nine million copies around the world.
Figuring out which best sellers go unread is not easy, since most people don’t want to admit to the unfinished state of their reading. Much of the evidence is anecdotal. Bloom and Hawking, for instance, were the universal first responses when a small sampling of people in the book business were asked about unread best sellers. But a somewhat more solid indicator of unread books emerged in 1985 when Michael Kinsley, then of The New Republic, acted on his suspicions about reading habits in the nation’s capital.
Mr. Kinsley and a colleague put coupons redeemable for five dollars each in the back of 70 copies of selected books in Washington bookstores. Two of the books were ”Deadly Gambits: The Reagan Administration and the Stalemate in Nuclear Arms Control” by Strobe Talbott and ”The Good News Is the Bad News Is Wrong” by Ben J. Wattenberg. Though neither was a national best seller, they were chosen, Mr. Kinsley said, as the kinds of books Washingtonians were most likely to claim to have read. No one ever redeemed a coupon. The Kinsley report may be as scientific a study as there is.
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Michael Willis was the marketing director at the Free Press in 1994, when the company published ”The Bell Curve” by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray.”We thought it was very much the case that both professionals and the general public bought it to have it and didn’t read it,” he says. ”We got the sense even from reviews that people basically read the first chapter and the last.”
Link to the rest at The New York Times