On his radio show Wednesday evening, Conservative Review Editor-in-Chief Mark Levin asked how the New York Times Best Seller list could vary so dramatically from the Nielsen BookScan results, which track the actual sales of books. The answer is difficult to determine, because the Times is not particularly transparent about the sales numbers it uses. It leads one to wonder if there is a bias involved.
Here’s what Levin was highlighting. For the period ending last Sunday, Levin’s “Rediscovering Americanism” was the most sold nonfiction hardcover book of the week, according to BookScan numbers, outselling the nearest competitor by 3,000 copies. Despite that fact, The New York Times will report that Levin’s book is in second place and instead place the book with the third highest sales at number one. That book is by liberal darling astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
When asked for comment on how the lists are compiled, New York Times spokesperson Jordan Cohen told Conservative Review, “The Times’s best-seller lists are based on a detailed analysis of book sales from a wide range of retailers who provide us with specific and confidential context of their sales each week.”
Cohen added, “These standards are applied consistently across the board in order to provide Times readers our best assessment of what books are the most broadly popular at that time.”
Cohen also confirmed that Levin’s book is being demoted, “based on our standards and procedures.” Cohen provided an advance copy of this Sunday’s list.
That really didn’t answer the question, but it provided some insight. It seems that the Times list is a mix of objective metrics, like reported sales, and a subjective “analysis” and “context.” It is that subjective nature of the list that many conservatives have called into question over the years.
Before exploring the Times’ history of bias in its treatment of conservative authors, it is important to note that using the same week’s metrics, the Wall Street Journal list of best sellers has Levin at the top as well.
Wall Street Journal booklist gets it right (unlike NY Times) ... Rediscovering Americanism is the #1 non-fiction... https://t.co/Wz9cIKTOCs— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) July 21, 2017
Earlier this year, the Times excluded Fox News Radio’s Todd Starnes’ latest book, “The Deplorables’ Guide to Making America Great Again,” from the list, despite its robust sales, which reportedly were enough to have placed it in second. Fox News reported on the snub and gave a recent history of books that had been excluded.
But Starnes reportedly isn’t the only conservative author who has been pushed aside and ignored by the New York Times. Texas Republican Sen.Ted Cruz’s memoir “A Time for Truth” was omitted from the list in 2015, as was Dinesh D’Souza’s “America in 2014," David Limbaugh’s “Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel" and claims from conservative author Dick Morris who said the Times removed from its list his book “Revolt” along with those of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Fox News Contributor Frank Luntz.
The Times was even more candid with Fox News than with CR, telling Fox News flat out that Starnes’ book “simply did not meet our standard for inclusion.” This was despite its strong sales.
The Times does publish its methodology, which includes statistical methods and sales reported by booksellers to the Times. In addition, it takes into account whether or not retailers have reported “bulk shipments” of a book.
Sales are defined as completed transactions by individuals during the period on or after the official publication date of a title. Institutional, special interest, group or bulk purchases, if and when they are included, are at the discretion of The New York Times Best-Seller List Desk editors based on standards for inclusion that encompass proprietary vetting and audit protocols, corroborative reporting and other statistical determinations. When included, such bulk purchases appear with a dagger (†).
This subjective metric is where significant bias can skew the picture. Who is reporting “bulk shipments?” How many booksellers must report “bulk shipments?” And why does it seem that the books flagged as being “bulk shipped” are overwhelmingly conservative?
I took a look at the first 30 weeks of published best seller lists at the Times for 2017. The Times reports the top 15 books each week. In the hardcover, non-fiction category, 79 percent of the weekly entries tagged with the “bulk shipment dagger” were from conservative authors. The authors included Levin, Eric Boling, Newt Gingrich, Michael Savage, and David Limbaugh, among others.
There were no liberal authors whose books were flagged as “bulk shipped.”
The bias at the New York Times Best Seller list is well documented. As Levin said on his show, he expects them not to review his book, but reporting sales that are vastly different from other rankings is all too common.
The Times should be as transparent with these rankings as they require those they cover to be.
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Robert Eno is the director of research for Conservative Review. He is a conservative from deep blue Massachusetts but now lives in Greenville, SC. If you see something you’d like him to cover, tweet him @robeno.