October 28, 2016
Donald Trump loves books — he just doesn’t read them
by Ian Dreiblatt
Welp, there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news: an end to the raging dumpster fire that has been the 2016 election is finally almost here — just a week and a half a way. The bad news: for now, it rages on unabated, and it happens to be located just under America’s bedroom window. The other bad news: Donald Trump has, once again, done the unpardonable — he’s made it about books, again.
In a story reported by S.V. Date of the Huffington Post, it appears that Trump has spent about $300,000 over the past two months on payments to Penguin Random House, publishers of his book The Art of the Deal. (Well, not really his book, but.) Date also turned up a Trump campaign letter that offers the book as a fundraising premium, including the line, “The Art of the Deal is now out of print, so this is a very limited edition issue and only available through this special offer through my campaign.” (This, to quote the great Walter Cronkite, is “eagle-feathered horseshit” — Art of the Deal has been continuously in print since 1987.) Date’s all-but-certain conclusion: Trump is using campaign money to buy copies of his own books, sending them to campaign donors, and personally pocketing the royalty money (he bought the books with campaign money, but the royalties go to Trump personally).
A few things worth noting:
- We don’t recommend that you buy Trump’s books. But if buy them you must, please, buy local. (Also, please note that you need to donate $184 to the Trump campaign to receive a pretend-out-of-print copy; it lists for $16.99.)
- There’s a silver lining to the idea of Trump profiting off his own campaign’s purchases of his books, and it’s that he will have to split those royalties with co-author Tony Schwartz, a decent guy who, as we’ve recently written, plans to donate his share to charities the candidate presumably hates.
- As Date notes, books are only a slice of this rotten pie; Trump also rents his own campaign office space for $169,758 a month, and has found ways to pass a substantial portion of the $10,000-per-hour costs of flying the secret service around in his personal jet to American taxpayers (a group that famously includes most of us, but does not include Donald Trump).
The bulk purchases raise a specter of possible illegality — federal regulations prohibit pay-outs to candidates from their own campaigns, since that amounts, essentially, to publicly subsidized money-laundering. So if Trump were found to have been paid royalties on the books his campaign bought, he might be subject to prosecution.
This isn’t Trump’s first deployment of the 🇺🇸+= doctrine. This summer, Team Trump made waves in the publishing world when it was revealed the campaign had spent $55,000 at a Manhattan Barnes & Noble on May 10, 2016, walking away with 3,964 copies of Trump’s book Crippled America (also known by its paperback title, Great Again). Olivia Nuzzi and Ben Collins reported the story for the Daily Beast:
A spokesperson for the Republican nominee told The Daily Beast the books were purchased “as part of gifting at the convention, which we have to do.” Sure enough, delegates in attendance at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July were given canvas tote bags, stamped with the Trump slogan, and filled with copies of Crippled America, as well as Kleenex and Make America Great Again! cups, hats, and T-shirts. Delegates were also given plastic fetus figurines.
This, too, may have been illegal. The Federal Election Commission recently considered a similar plan by Paul Ryan, and found that it would be permissible only if royalties were paid to third-party charities rather than to Ryan himself.
It’s also interesting that los Trump chose to funnel this earlier bulk sale through a brick-and-mortar store, instead of the publisher (in Crippled America’s case, Simon & Schuster). The likeliest reason—and this isn’t a terrible idea—is that brick-and-mortar sales are counted in industry record-keeping services like Nielsen BookScan—the book trade’s primary tool of sales-based envy and schadenfreude. These numbers get counted in the tabulation of bestseller lists, while direct sales from publishers do not. It might be that the gargantuan purchase was arranged through Barnes & Noble in part to increase the book’s chances as a bestseller list contender — an idea that has been familiar to the right for a long time.
We saw a similar strategy played out the previous summer, when the Ted Cruz campaign (😢) protested that the New York Times was excluding Cruz’s A Time for Truth from its bestseller list despite sales numbers that had earned it a place there. The campaign called it an attempt “to impugn the integrity of Senator Cruz and of his publisher Harper Collins [sic].” Reached by Politico’s Dylan Byers, Times spokesperson Eileen Murphy explained that the book had been excluded because “the overwhelming preponderance of evidence was that sales were limited to strategic bulk purchases.” As Philip Bump noted in the Washington Post, the situation was a “win-win” for Cruz, affording him both “the conservative cred of being blackballed by the Times and the PR bonus of being a Times bestseller.”
As for us, we recently published a wholly legitimate New York Times bestseller—David Cay Johnston’s The Making of Donald Trump. Nate Silver reported this week that Trump’s odds are at about sixteen percent, “about the same as the chances of losing a ‘game’ of Russian roulette. And 15 percent is about the same chance we gave the San Antonio Spurs of beating the Golden State Warriors last night — the Spurs won by 29 points.” This is to say Johnston’s book is as relevant as ever. Buy a copy today — we promise to send you no plastic fetus figurines whatsoever.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.