When Donald Trump Jr.’s book “Triggered” debuted at the top of The New York Times’ hardcover non-fiction best-seller list earlier this month, a conspicuous dagger appeared alongside it.
The symbol meant editors who work on The Times’ best-seller list had determined some of the sales had been made in bulk.
Critics seized on the inclusion of the dagger to accuse Trump Jr. of having purchased his way onto the coveted list.
Then, this week, reporters at The Times offered what seemed to be evidence to support the accusation.
The reporters, Alexandra Alter and Nicholas Confessore, published a story revealing that the Republican National Committee had spent nearly $100,000 on orders for the book.
The sub-headline for the story by Alter and Confessore declared that the book “topped the best-seller list thanks in part to a big order from the Republican National Committee.”
But it’s very unlikely that the purchase by the RNC – which was for books that were given to donors – played a significant role in the book’s No. 1 debut, much less that it was the deciding factor.
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.
It’s unclear precisely how many copies of “Triggered” the RNC purchased. But if the organization spent approximately $100,000 on an order, and it purchased the copies at the listed price of $30, that would equate to a little under 3,500 copies.
If the RNC purchased $100,000 of books at a 50% discount, it would have bought a little under 7,000 copies.
Neither figure would have been large enough to get the book to the top of the Times’ list. Even if the RNC’s order were to be excluded from the total sales, Trump Jr.’s book would almost certainly still debuted at No. 1.
The Times’ best-seller list is not solely based off raw book sales tallied by Bookscan, but on the newspaper’s own methodology. Though the details of that methodology are closely held, it is known that the Times gives less weight to bulk sales, meaning that the RNC’s buy may not have even counted for the full 3,500-7,000 copies.
Eric Nelson, a vice president and editorial director for Broadside Books, an imprint at Harper Collins that specializes in conservative non-fiction books, criticized The Times for its coverage of the RNC buy.
Nelson said in a tweet that he was “not a fan of Don Jr,” but added that The Times’ sub-headline was “empirically, provably false.” Nelson said “second grade math” proved as much.
A spokesperson for The Times told CNN Business that the newspaper stood by its story.
The spokesperson said the organization’s best-seller list is “based on a detailed analysis of book sales from a wide range of retailers who provide us with specific and confidential context for their sales each week.”
“Triggered” outpaced the competition in both weeks by such a significant factor that it would have almost certainly topped The Times’ best-seller list without the RNC buy.
The Times spokesperson also told CNN Business that the dagger symbol “can be found with some regularity on our hardcover nonfiction, advice and monthly business best-seller lists.”
Trump Jr. has heavily promoted his book, appearing on various Fox News shows and talk-radio programs to do so. Such shows are known to significantly boost sales. Moreover, President Trump also promoted “Triggered” on Twitter.