The New York Times Bestsellers List Accused of Downplaying Titles by Conservative Authors

A new study finds that books by conservative publishers are 7 percent less likely to make it onto the list than books by other publishers with similar sales figures.

AP/Mark Lennihan, file
The New York Times building in 2021. AP/Mark Lennihan, file

The New York Times Bestsellers list is coming under fire for bias against conservative books, suggesting that America’s most prestigious weekly rankings of book sales might be about more than just sales.

A new study by the Economist finds that books by publishers that describe themselves politically as to the right of center are 7 percent less likely to make it onto the Times list than books by other publishers with similar sales figures. That’s according to 12 years of data from Circana Bookscan, a firm that claims to track 85 percent of print book sales in America.

Conservative books that do become Times bestsellers rank on average 2.3 slots lower on the non-fiction list than those published by other presses with similar sales. The trend appears strongest with books on the lower rungs of the list. “Accusations of bias against conservative books,” the Economist finds, “may have merit.” 

Take just a couple examples: When a far-right conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones, became the second-bestselling author in America in August of 2022, his title was excluded from the Times’s list. President Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo’s book, “Never Give an Inch,” didn’t make the March 26 list, despite selling more copies than six titles on it. 

Neither did investigative journalist Abigail Shrier’s 2024 book, “Bad Therapy,” a critique of the modern-day obsession with therapy, make the Times’s cut, even after it became the No. 1 book on Amazon. Users on X were quick to explain why: “the @nytimes is captured by the kinds of people and ideas the book exposes,” one wrote. “It’s not a best sellers list, it’s a books we approve list,” another wrote. Elon Musk chimed in: “The New York Times is pure propaganda.”

The Times asserts that its bestseller list, published weekly since October 12, 1931, rates books “authoritatively.”

“We disagree with the Economist’s suggestion that political bias plays a role in the Best Seller Lists,” a spokeswoman for the Times, Melissa Torres, tells the Sun. “The political views of authors or their publishers have absolutely no bearing on our rankings and are not a factor in calculations. In fact, conservative authors routinely rank on our lists.”

Some prolific writers are not convinced. The standings lack “statistical rigor,” an author of more than 260 Times bestselling books, James Patterson, argued in a March letter-to-the-editor, which the Gray Lady declined to publish. “As the nation’s bookstores and our publishing houses have known for years and can prove — your lists too often are outside the realm of the statistically possible, much less plausible.”

Mr. Patterson says that his book, “Walk the Blue Line,” which includes first-hand stories by American police, outsold all but three of the 14 other books on a Times bestsellers list in March, yet it was ranked at number six. When his publisher asked the paper about the placement, it allegedly responded that it cares about more than just “raw” sales.

The Times’s process for determining the rankings is shrouded in mystery. A 2020 article offered a glimpse into it, explaining that which books make the bestsellers lists and where they land on it depends on sales data of millions of titles each week from tens of thousands of storefronts, online retailers, and specialty and independent bookstores. Before finalizing the list, the three-person bestseller team also does some of its own “investigative reporting.”

That last step in the process is where the Times’s alleged bias might surface. The Times did not immediately respond to the Sun’s requests for comment on the matter.

Plenty of books go on to sell thousands of copies even if they never grace the pages of the Times or the Wall Street Journal or Los Angeles Times. Yet securing a spot on their rankings can set soaring a book’s sales and an author’s career. Bestsellers lists matter to the publishing industry, so they can help an author advance their next book contract. And they can lead to press appearances or speaking opportunities — and more cash.

While the newspaper industry sees dropping circulation rates and widespread layoffs, truth and accuracy should be the last thing to go. Take it from Mr. Patterson, who describes himself as a devout reader of the Times since he moved to New York City in 1971:

“This may be a narrow trade industry concern, but this lack of journalistic rigor redounds to the reputation of what I have always believed is the most truth loving, influential news outlet in the world. An institution that I feel should always strive — with every single piece of news it sees fit to print — to stay that way.”

The New York Sun

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