Chart of the Day: Don't Judge a Candidate's Book By Its Number

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Andrew put together those numbers “by Nielson BookScan, which covers print sales at 85 percent of booksellers (though not e-books).” A reader downplays those figures:

Campaigns buy the books themselves then give them out to their own supporters to inflate their numbers. Nobody actually buys these books.

For instance, regarding Ted Cruz’s most recent book:

Based on the $122,000+ that Cruz’s campaign paid HarperCollins, and considering the $27.99 retail price and the typical author discount of 50%, the Cruz campaign likely purchased 8,000-10,000 copies of A Time For Truth. That’s a hefty profit for HarperCollins and a huge profit for Cruz if the campaign is able to sell those copies at $85 a pop. In essence, the campaign is taking money from Cruz’s donors to buy books, many of which they will sell right back to those donors at a massive markup.

And candidates often get a big boost from super PACs as well:

A super PAC associated with Mr. Carson, a prolific author and perennial bestseller, spent over $150,000 buying copies of his books [in 2014]. Ms. Palin made headlines in 2010 for using her super PAC to buy up $63,000 worth of copies of her book, “Going Rogue,” reportedly to mail copies of the memoir to her donors. So did GOP candidate Herman Cain in 2011, when his campaign was found to have purchased $36,511 worth of Cain’s books from his private motivational speaking company.