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Ted Cruz’s exclusion from NYT Best Sellers List raises speculation on how authors can game the system

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When the latest edition of the New York Times hits newsstands on Sunday, one notable book will be left off its nonfiction best seller list: A Time for Truth, the new memoir by U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz.

Politico reported Thursday evening that even though Nielsen BookScan reports A Time for Truth sold 11,854 copies last week, the Times informed publisher HarperCollins that they would not be giving the book a slot on their prestigious list. That is a bigger deal than it may seem, particularly because many publishers award bonuses based on Times list standings.

Speaking to EW, Eileen Murphy—vice president of corporate communications at the Times— elaborated on the newspaper’s criteria for the list and Cruz’s exclusion from it. “The same standard that was applied to this book is applied to every book for our list,” Murphy said. “It’s not just the quantity of books sold, it’s the quality of those sales. There are ways to game the system. I’m not suggesting that’s what happened here, but the best seller list is meant to reflect to our readers actual authentic sales.”

No one is alleging that Cruz tried to game the system, though it is something authors have tried to do in the past. The World reported in 2013 that Seattle megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll hired marketing company ResultSource to help get his book Real Marriage on best seller lists. “ResultSource received a fee of $25,000 to coordinate a nationwide network of book buyers who would purchase Real Marriage at locations likely to generate reportable sales for various best seller lists, including the New York Times list,” the World reported.

For its part, Cruz’s publisher, HarperCollins, contested the possibility that the book was bought in bulk. “HarperCollins Publishers has investigated the sales pattern for Ted Cruz’s book A Time for Truth and has found no evidence of bulk orders or sales through any retailer or organization,” the company said in a statement. “A Time for Truth ranked high on other publishing industry best seller lists including Nielsen BookScan (#4), a subscription service that tracks the vast majority of book sales in America, The Wall Street Journal (#4) and Barnes and Noble (#7). All these outlets omit bulk orders books from their rankings.”

Jim Milliot, the editorial director of Publishers Weekly, said that they saw no red flags when looking at numbers for Cruz’s book, which now sits at No. 4 on Publishers Weekly‘s nonfiction hardcover list. By contrast, he explained, Publishers Weekly recently refused to include an L. Ron Hubbard book after noticing that the majority of its sales were from Tampa. “After I saw the Politico piece, I went on BookScan and looked geographically,” Milliot said. “This will not shock you, but the two biggest cities for sales were Dallas and Houston. Since he’s a senator from Texas, that didn’t really seem out of whack. They roughly had 1,400 copies sold in each place. Out of 11,000, that doesn’t seem too extreme to us.” Milliot said Publishers Weekly bases their list on Nielsen BookScan data, which takes into account sales at large chains like Barnes & Noble and Wal-Mart, over 500 independent bookstores, and various other outlets.

A major publishing executive advises caution over the whole affair. “These days, people are too smart to try and game the system with bulk purchases,” she says. “They’ve gotten savvier. And the Times has gotten savvier at detecting them.”

Cruz’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

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