The Big Lie: The New York Times Bestseller List

NEW YORK - APRIL 21: The New York Times logo is seen on the headquarters building on April 21, 2011 in New York City. The New York Times profits fell 58 percent in the first quarter of 2011. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)
Ramin Talaie/Getty Images

Last week, a familiar story played out in the book publishing world. A conservative book outsold every other book in the country — yet it was mysteriously left off The New York Times bestseller list. I don’t mean it wasn’t #1 on the Times list, I mean it wasn’t on the list at all.

This is deja vu all over again for conservatives. During my time at Regnery, we repeatedly experienced The New York Times’ curious definition of “bestselling,” which often resulted in conservative books landing lower on the list, or not on the list at all, despite actual sales.

The New York Times uses their own secret recipe for curating their bestseller list, a recipe they refuse to disclose, but which appears to rely on sales at reporting stores that perhaps once were, but no longer are, terribly representative of the country’s actual buying behavior. The keepers of the List also use discretion (read, finger on the scale) when factoring in sales at places like Amazon. We were told on more than one occasion that if the percentage of a book’s overall sales at Amazon was “too high,” this counted against a book’s chances of making the List.

Not exactly a scientific exercise. Instead, the List is ripe for tampering and manipulation.

Publishing insiders have long known the unreliability of the Times list. Regnery stopped using the Times list four years ago, after a particularly egregious example of bias, and began using the Publishers Weekly list instead. That list is based on Nielson’s Bookscan reporting service, which at least is transparent enough to provide some measure of objective sales data.

In last week’s case, Michael Knowles’ new book, “Speechless,” sold more than 17,000 copies according to Bookscan. Which should have earned it the #1 spot on any bestseller list (as it was on the PW list). Instead, The New York Times put Bill O’Reilly’s history book (“Killing the Mob”) at #1, despite the fact that O’Reilly’s book sold approximately 12,000 copies in the same week.

Now hold on, you might say. Bill O’Reilly is conservative. The Times put him at #1, so clearly they are not biased against conservatives, right?

The truth is more complicated, and more insidious.

First, let’s look at the subject of O’Reilly’s book. It’s not conservative, it’s not even political. It’s about the history of organized crime in America. So, not a big threat to the progressive narrative. Secondly, consider who published the two books: Knowles was published by Regnery, the unapologetically conservative publishing house; O’Reilly’s book was published by St. Martin’s Press, a division of MacMillan Publishers.

I believe this second factor is key, a point driven home by a recent panel discussion at the U.S. Book Show a few weeks ago about “political books in the post-Trump era.”

The panelists were quick to distance themselves from any perceived connection with pro-Trump authors or books, and quick to pat themselves on the back for their tolerance and openmindedness. They drew distinctions between “credible authors” and “ones who are not credible.” They also offered this doozey: “when major publishers deplatform books by figures like [Sen. Josh] Hawley, they may [be] driving their authors toward fringe publishers that may not rigorously fact-check their books.”

The arrogance of that statement is only overshadowed by its hypocrisy. The suggestion that Regnery’s books are less accurate than the books published by a “major publisher” is both insulting and a blatant lie; calling Regnery a “fringe publisher” is just plain offensive. And make no mistake, this panelist (who runs a “conservative” imprint at a major publishing house) was taking aim squarely at Regnery and other independent publishers who dare to challenge the narrative peddled by the major houses.

Sitting atop his very high horse, another panelist continued: “You cannot get away, with a major publisher from the Big 5, with just telling your side of the story… for those who were in the Trump administration, they’re being pressed in ways they weren’t before about confronting a culture of deceit and conspiracy theories.”

Give me a break. When Random House published Barrack Obama’s book last year, did they warn him he would not “get away with just telling his side of the story?” When Hillary Clinton told us about all her “Hard Choices” did Simon & Schuster press her to confront her own record of deceit?

This is hubris at its most revolting.

Everywhere you turn, the big players in the book world are rewriting history and shaping the narrative to fit their agenda. Bestselling books are not really bestsellers — if they promote a conservative worldview; publishers are not legitimate publishers — if they publish authors who challenge the mainstream media version of events (e.g., any question raised about the integrity of the election is now dubbed the “Big Lie”).

Reasonable people can have differences of opinions, even strongly-held different views of what is right and wrong. Publishing outlets should review and debate these differences. Books should explore the meaning and significance of events, trends, ideas and policies from a variety of viewpoints.

But fact-checking should not be politicized and raw data should not be misrepresented. When 2 + 2 = 5, we are all in trouble.

Marji Ross has over 30 years experience in the publishing industry. For nearly two decades, she served as President and Publisher of Regnery Publishing, the nation’s leading publisher of conservative books.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  The Big Lie: The New York Times Bestseller List