There's a chain of bookstores in South Georgia that hold a secret.
I discovered it on the way back from a convention in Orlando one day, desperate for some present to give my book-loving wife.
Stacked floor-to-ceiling in these stores are "best-sellers," nearly every "big" title from a right-wing hack delivered over the last decade or more. There's Laura Bush's autobiography, alongside the Swift Boat attack on John Kerry and titles from the whole Fox News pantheon. There are right-wing preachers, firebreathers, and a ton of get-rich-quick books by folks who, if they really knew that much, would have gotten rich some other way.
I think about those stores whenever I see "books" like Kevin Trudeau's Natural Cures or Neal Boortz' Fair Tax Book topping things like The New York Times best-seller list, week-after-week.
Do you know anyone reading this dreck? You might not.
The fact is that best-seller lists are compiled based on black arts, which are opaque to outsiders (and even some insiders). Even the best list of final sales, that of Nielsen's BookScan, doesn't include results from Wal-Mart, which sells more books than anyone.
There are many reasons to manipulate the lists, run dummy sales through a scanner, and ship the lot down to south Georgia (or somewhere else). Corporate ego is another. The need to show a return on a big advance is another.
But politics may be the best reason. Reporters and editors look to best-seller lists to find out what people are "really" thinking, the thoughts they're putting down their own money for. If you have an agenda, and you have a lot of money, manipulating these lists in order to control the media agenda is a cheap investment with a big return.
Think I'm wrong? Prove it.
What I'm saying is we need transparency here, and I don't expect to get it any time soon. So don't believe everything you read, even about what you supposedly read.