Friday's revelation that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney managed to produce a best-selling book largely through the generosity and help of conservative institutions may have raised eyebrows in the political world. But in the publishing business it was greeted with shrugs and yawns.
The manipulation of the book-ranking process has been a longstanding industry feature, perfected most commonly by Republican-leaning authors. A book industry source who spoke about the process on condition of anonymity, raised the curtain a bit on how Romney likely maneuvered his book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," to the top of the New York Times bestseller list in March 2010.
"What he did specifically is to get people to go to bookstores to buy big numbers of copies and to do it without letting on that it was a business-to-business transaction," said the source. "You never identify that you are part of the book tour. Some book sellers will be hip to it and if they smell a business-to-business transaction, the book sellers will not count those copies sold to the best-seller list."
"The other hidden secret that everyone basically knows is that there are specific stores that are New York Times reporting stores. Most publishers know who they are. There are some independents and some chains. And basically their sales numbers are the ones passed to the Times."
One feature of the book-ranking business that is not that commonly known, the source relayed, is that standings essentially reset on a weekly basis. Romney could be on top of the rankings for the week of March 21st (as he was on the New York Times hardcover non-fiction list), but to stay there, he had to keep selling books week after week. The paper didn't look at aggregate totals.
"Spiritual teachers [authors] do this all the time," the book industry source said. "They have campaigns basically. People really know how to do this. They have campaigns where they send people out on the same day each week. They send people into the bookstores to ask for the book."
The process, indeed, is remarkably scientific. And for a variety of reasons conservatives have managed to perfect it better than progressives -- in turn, giving their authors a far more prestigious and wider platform than their ideological counterparts. The Democratic infrastructure has taken steps to close the gap, specifically with the appointment of former DNC chairman Howard Dean to the post of chair of the Progressive Book Club in June 2009.
But the success of Romney's book indicates that the institutional framework still very much favors Republican authors. "With Democrats and with liberals, purchasing tends to be mobilizing individually as opposed to institutionally," said the industry source.