NYT Bestseller List Flagged Trump Jr.’s Book; Is This Part of a Pattern to Tarnish Successful Conservative Books?

Donald Trump Jr.’s book, Triggered, has been on the top of the New York Times bestsellers list for two weeks now. As soon as the book showed up on the list, the media quickly downplayed its success by noting that its sales included bulk sales, such as when the Republican National Committee bought approximately 4,000 copies for a fundraiser.

If you visit the New York Times website, you’ll notice its entry on the list has been tagged with a dagger symbol which denotes that bulk sales are included in the book’s sales figures. A publishing industry source told the New York Post ,“It’s known in the industry as the ‘deadly dagger.’ A rare penalty that is only called for flagrant fouls.”

Anti-Trumpers on social media pounced on reports like this, arguing that Donald Trump Jr. isn’t a legitimate bestselling author, and that he cheated and manipulated his sales to get on the bestseller list.

But, according to other publishing industry experts, the RNC’s bulk purchase was inconsequential to the book’s performance on the bestsellers list.

In fact, according to a book publishing industry expert who spoke to CNN Business, the suggestion the RNC purchase put Trump Jr. on the best-seller list is "all a big fuss over nothing."

"People are making way too much of something that has no basis in fact," said the person, who requested anonymity to candidly discuss the matter. "The math is obvious."

A second person who works in the book publishing industry agreed, telling CNN Business, "It would have been impossible for them to not give it number one -- even excluding the bulk copies."

According to NPD Bookscan, which analysts in the industry use to track book sales, "Triggered" sold 70,730 hardcover copies in its first week. The second book on The Times' list that week, "Finding Chika," sold 30,678 copies.

In its second week, "Triggered" sold 44,337 copies. The second book on The Times' best-seller list that week was "Sam Houston and the Alamo Avengers," which sold 23,654 copies.

While it is not known exactly how many books the RNC purchased, even with the most liberal estimates subtracted from the total sales, Don Jr.’s book would have hit number one by a large margin.

Despite this, even the Times joined in on the pile-on of Donald Trump Jr., claiming the book “topped the best-seller list thanks in part to a big order from the Republican National Committee,” a claim they know very well to be false.

Considering the bulk sales were inconsequential, why tag the book with the infamous “deadly dagger” at all? In simple terms, if the New York Times feels it should tag books with bulk sales, they’ve got every right to do so. Naturally, I decided to click through months of lists to see what books got daggers and which ones didn’t. There’s a long history of politicians buying their books in bulk. Presidential candidates release a book while they campaign, and buy books in bulk to give with a donation. Nonprofits supported by or founded by a politician will often do the same. Public figures in all fields and on both sides of the aisle are known to do this.

As I kept digging, one trend stuck out: the books tagged with daggers (and there generally weren’t many) were mostly conservative books. Could this just be a conservative phenomenon? Even I was starting to wonder, until I got all the way back to April 21, 2019. Number 14 on the list was Valerie Jarrett’s memoir, Finding My Voice, a book industry experts virtually all agreed had its sales numbers inflated by bulk and bogus sales.

No "deadly dagger." That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? We reported on the suspicious sales of this book back when they were discovered. Sales were so suspicious that Publisher’s Weekly didn’t even chart the book. “According to an industry insider, a big chunk of the book’s sales was suspect, and there was likely an effort to game the system,” I reported. “This insider believes that a single company was likely hired to buy as many as 11,000 copies of the book in such a manner that makes it appear like legitimate sales. “

The suspicious nature of Jarrett’s sales was widely reported in conservative media, but Jarrett’s book still appears on the list, dagger-free. Is it possible the New York Times was simply duped? Well, let’s see what they say about bulk sales, and how they’re reported.

Sales are defined as completed transactions by vendors and individual end users 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 methodology seems quite comprehensive—between the suspicious sales and media reporting on it, it seems as though Jarrett’s book should be flagged with the “deadly dagger.” The fact that it doesn't suggests a bias in the process where conservative books are getting flagged and liberal books are not. If the New York Times is gonna provide cover for Valerie Jarrett, what other books by liberal authors have not been given the "deadly dagger" as well?

PJ Media reached out to the New York Times about this discrepancy. “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,” said Jordan Cohen, the Executive Director of Communications at the New York Times. “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.” Jordan then provided a list of conservative-leaning authors who have ranked on their bestseller lists since June 2008, noting that not all of them received daggers—which wasn’t what I was suggesting. Cohen did not respond to follow up inquiries before publication.

Without any sort of transparency in their process, we won’t know what kind of bias there may or may not be in how the New York Times flags books as being “manipulated” by bulk sales, but so far, the evidence suggests they’re willingly turning a blind eye to bulk sales of liberal books on their list while conservative books that are far outselling the competition are getting “deadly daggers.”

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Matt Margolis is the author of Trumping Obama: How President Trump Saved Us From Barack Obama's Legacy and the bestselling book The Worst President in History: The Legacy of Barack Obama. You can follow Matt on Twitter @MattMargolis