Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Can a book mostly bulk-bought by political hypesters to inflate "sales" qualify as a "best-seller"?


Plus: The irony of superliar Rafael "Ted from
Alberta" Cruz titling a book A Time For Truth

Daily Kos caption: "A Time For Lies?"

"This fake 'popularity' of conservative books is evidenced by the fact that 4 out of the 5 'bestsellers' in 2013 were by conservative opinion makers.

"Really? If 4 out of 5 of the most popular books are about conservative ideas then why did 5,204,364 more people vote for Democrats in the last 3 Nationwide Senate elections?"

-- HealOurCountry, in the above-linked Daily Kos post

by Ken

Remember when we were force-marched into a discussion of the meaning of "is"? Well, now hordes of lying right-wing imbeciles are up in arms because the NY Times suddenly got a tad persnicketty about the meaning of a "book sale," in the sense of "the sale of a book."

In a better world, it wouldn't matter.

Probably in our minds when we think of a "book sale," we think of somebody who wants a book and plunks down cash or a credit card to take ownership of it. And consequently we would assume that a "best-seller list" would consist of the books for which this person-buys-book-he/she-wants" transaction happened the largest number of times. Let buyers buy all the books they want and do with them what they will -- it's nobody else's business.

Ours isn't, unfortunately, that better world. In our world, it turns out that there are times when it really does matter how we define a book sale. Like when we're counting them up.

Now certainly books bought as gifts count. If Uncle Oswald decides to buy copies of Fly-Tying for Dummies for all 25 relations and friends on his Christmas list, that's pretty much the moral equivalent of those 25 lucky recipients going out and buying the books for themselves, even if 23 or 24 of the actual recipients never open their copies and limit their involvement with it to making snarky comments about Uncle Oswald on the phone with other recipients.

But what if agenda-driven organizations buy up thousands of copies, their agenda being to notch those "book sales,"  to count toward hoped-for best-sellerdom? And what if, far from being aberrant cases of overenthusiastic boosterism, this is a standard way of selling books with a certain political agenda?

In case you weren't aware, this is exactly how our book-publishing industry has been functioning for ages now. I know I wasn't always aware. I remember being surprised and puzzled when I first heard about the lofty sales figures for many highly ideological right-wing tomes. Who knew there were so many right-wing readers tearing through all those books?

I learned that there really weren't.

For a host of right-wing individuals and foundations, the propaganda value of racking up high "sales" for their titles, and in particular of having best-seller lists dominated by such titles, is well worth the cost of buying up vast quantities of books that are subsequently given away, used as paperweights or doorstops, or simply trashed. The purpose of buying those books was never to have anyone read them but simply to have those book sales on the books, as it were.

(Certainly book publishers weren't complaining, at least not the ones who publish the kinds of books that are the beneficiaries of this right-wing institutional largesse -- and those bulk sales must be a lot cheaper to process and ship, even if they're made at hiked-up discounts, than real book sales, to actual readers, or rather to vendors who hope to sell the books to actual readers.)

This was set out elegantly by Daily Kos's HealOurCountry in a Saturday post called "The NY Times stops letting Conservatives cheat. Maybe Liberals will make the Bestseller List now."
People have been ignoring the NY Times bestseller list for years.

This is because the books are cooked. The numbers are fudged. The fix is in. And it's not being done by the Times.

It's being done by the publishers.

Have you ever noticed that books written by conservative pundits make the bestseller list their very first week out? How books by Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reily seem to be on the bestseller list before they're even released?

In a long, long overdue move the Times has finally stood up for itself and said no, at least this one time.

What they said no to is a an old and well known method of rigging the bestseller lists by having conservative think tanks and other organizations buy up books written by conservative authors. These groups buy books by the pallet, sometimes by the truck load, in order artificially drive up the numbers, pushing books that spout conservative ideas and liberal hating hysteria to the top of the bestseller lists.

This is why conservative books and ideas seem to be so "popular". It may look like books that tout conservative ideas are popular but, in truth, very few people are buying them. It's just that the few who do buy them by the truckload.

So where do all these books go? They're given away. They're given away to donors, volunteers and anyone else who will have them, even if they only use them for doorstops.

They're given to people because the only way to get people to read them is to give them away. Think that's an exaggeration? I'll tell you what, head on over to your nearest used book store. You'll find the shelves overflowing with shiny new copies of books by Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, Charles Krouthammer and many, many more conservative pundits. This is because the people who had them never wanted them in the first place.


At least not for people with some slight familiarity with the economics of the book-publishing industry. For people who didn't know about this racket, this is an excellent teachable moment, but that still doesn't explain why we're suddenly talking about it.

It's because, as referenced in HealOurCountry's post title, the NY Times last week had a sudden "no más" moment, in the case of Rafael "Ted from Alberta" Cruz's new stomach-turner, the ironically titled A Time for Truth. (In the world of Ted from Alberta, one of the most dishonest people on the planet, the time for truth would seem to be "never!") Not surprisingly, the Right-Wing Noise Machine went bonkers. The noisemakers, once again either too stupid to know the truth or too dishonest to tell it (another instance of the eternal right-wing "Are they dopes or liars?" conundrum), went into screeching High Hysteria. Here's HealOurCountry again:
In what could be described as a bold move, "The New York Times decided this week not to place Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-TX) book on its bestseller list, leaving some conservatives convinced that the paper unfairly targeted the presidential candidate." (Talking Points Memo: Conservatives Cry Foul As Cruz's Book Doesn't Make NYT Bestseller List)

"A Time For Truth" sold more copies than 18 of the 20 books that appeared on the bestseller list this week", Politico reported in its article N.Y. Times keeps Cruz off bestseller list.

Later, the Talking Points Memo article goes on to say:
"In the case of this book, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence was that sales were limited to strategic bulk purchases," Murphy wrote in an email, according to Politico.

Given that Cruz's book sold so many copies and that the Times has previously included books written by Republican politicians and candidates on its bestseller list, conservatives on Thursday night were outraged.
Conservatives were outraged that a conservative politician was not allowed to get away with cheating his way onto the bestseller list? Let me see if I can feign shock and surprise...

Nope, can't do it.
Well, it was a good try, HOC!

Before signing off, I just want to take a closer look at the Times's explanation for its surprising treatment of Ted from Alberta's book,, as provided to Politico by the "Murphy" we encountered above.

Here's what appeared in the original post, which went up Thursday evening at 5:53pm:
"We have uniform standards that we apply to our best seller list, which includes an analysis of book sales that goes beyond simply the number of books sold," Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy explained when asked about the omission. "This book didn't meet that standard this week."

Asked to specify those standards, Murphy replied: "Our goal is that the list reflect authentic best sellers, so we look at and analyze not just numbers, but patterns of sales for every book."
At 9:42pm an update was added:
Murphy emailed late Thursday night to further clarify the reasoning behind the Times decision.

"In the case of this book, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence was that sales were limited to strategic bulk purchases," she wrote.
Ah! Thank you, Eileen, that's certainly clearer. Naturally the number of right-wingers who have the very limited intelligence necesssary to understand this and the honesty to acknowledge it is pretty limited. Nevertheless, I have to second HealOurCountry's hope that the NYT "will stand fast and not give in to the screaming mob."

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At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Commercialism really screws up artists. And I know for a fact that some incredibly talented writers of my generation have been silenced by it. (And then, some of them took to the internet, where they were occasionally intimidated in other ways.) We need a world where everyone is allowed to speak the truth, and is treated with respect when they try to.

At 4:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"For a host of right-wing individuals and foundations, the propaganda value of racking up high "sales" … is well worth the cost of buying up vast quantities of books that are subsequently given away, used as paperweights or doorstops, or simply trashed" - or given away to cash-strapped library systems.

At 4:35 PM, Blogger KenInNY said...

Two things, Anon: (1) Libraries these days mostly seem to be falling over themselves to get rid of books, not acquire more. (2) And in any case these books, which are mostly devoted to calculated perversion of truth, are hardly what libraries need more of.


At 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

K: Yes, I see buckets of them being sold at library sales. But I also see them on the shelves when they are on the List, especially out here in poor rural areas, where a great many people - including some who should know better - consider the sort of right wing books that heretofore have been on the Times Bestseller List to be current events and even contemporary politics.


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