Who Hacked the New York Times Bestseller List?

Print More
Jackie Hemond

Jackie Hemond

In 1931, The New York Times began a list of bestselling books sold only in New York City. Soon the list tracked book sales in 8 cities, then 14, and in the 1940’s, it leapt to 22, the same number as today. The algorithms to prepare the list are mysterious, as are the names of the booksellers. Getting on this prestigious list leads to fame and fortune and a cause for gaming the system (i.e. hacking – tampering with the list), which is not hard to do. Authors just have to buy 5,000 copies of their book in a week. It is not illegal, just untruthful. The New York Times is aware of these bulk purchases and generally, removes the book from the list, or more often, places a dagger next to suspected books. Despite this awkwardness, with memories being short, hackers often call themselves best-selling authors.

The New York Times best seller list was hacked as recently as August 2017, when Lani Sarema bought 5,000 copies of her young adult book, Handbook for Mortals. Her book came off the list but she is reported to have received a potential movie deal.

Among the list of hackers are Valley of the Dolls author Jacqueline Susann, self-help author Wayne Dyer, megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll and Donald Trump. According to his memoir, ex-Trump executive, Jack O’Donnell, bought 5,000 copies of The Art of the Deal to sell in the Trump Plaza Hotel gift store. He wasn’t the only buyer. Trump pitted O’Donnell and his other executives, including wife Ivana, against each other, to see who bought the most. Last year, dealer Trump bought $55,055 worth of copies of his new book, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again with campaign funds. However, Trump is not the only politician to game the system.

Herman Cain’s campaign bought $36,511 worth of his book This is Herman Cain: My Journey to the White House from his motivational speaking company. Ted Cruz, as reported by The New Republic, paid $122,252.62 to his own publisher to buy his book, A Time for Truth. The New York Times took his book off the bestseller list. Mitt Romney received a dagger with his book, No Apology. According to Politico, when Romney went on tour promoting his book, he received no speaking fees but his publisher insisted that the book tour hosts buy $25,000 to $50,000 in books.

No Apology is a great name for a hacker’s book.

(The bulk of this article came from “8 Notable Attempts to Hack The New York Times Bestseller List” by Emily Temple in the September 26, 2017 issue of Literary Hub.)

Comments are closed.