It’s the No. 4 best-selling book in the U.S. overall, according to Publishers Weekly. It’s No. 1 on Amazon. It’s No. 2 on the Washington Post’s non-fiction list. It’s No. 4 on USA Today’s overall list.
But it is not on the New York Times bestsellers list.
Deborah Dundas of the Toronto Star set out to find why:
We received an email from Books Editor Pamela Paul, who wrote: “Per the Bestsellers team, we do not include books published in Canada only. Hope that helps!”Robert Wenzel is Editor & Publisher of EconomicPolicyJournal.com and Target Liberty. He also writes EPJ Daily Alert and is author of The Fed Flunks: My Speech at the New York Federal Reserve Bank. Follow him on twitter:@wenzeleconomics and on LinkedIn. His youtube series is here: Robert Wenzel Talks Economics. The Robert Wenzel podcast is on iphone and stitcher.
That wasn’t an answer we expected.
The book was in fact sold in the U.S. — according to Publishers Weekly it moved almost 90,000 copies there in two weeks. It was also printed south of the border.
But the publisher is listed as Penguin Random House Canada — rather than its U.S.-based parent company or one of its stateside subsidiaries.
Could that be enough to disqualify Peterson from bragging rights?
Being Canadian didn’t seem to be an issue for another book that made the Times’ lists: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, from Vancouver-based publisher Greystone Books. So we went back to the Times for clarification.
This time, we heard back from Chris Harcum, who works with Paul.
“The Hidden Life of Trees was also published in the United States. We do not rank books that are not published in the United States,” Harcum reaffirmed in an email.
The Hidden Life of Trees, according to Jennifer Gauthier, the director of sales and marketing at Greystone, noted that the book was printed in Canada and, as to selling it in the U.S. market, they did “the same as when we ‘publish’ in Canada. We present it to our U.S. reps, they present it to buyers, it ships from our U.S. distributor, it is stocked in retail stores and we invest in marketing it.”
In addition, the book had the same ISBN identification number in both countries, and Greystone had rights to sell it both in Canada and the U.S.
Random House Canada says it handled Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life the same way.
Company spokesperson Tracey Turriff noted that the book was printed in the United States, distributed from its facilities in Maryland, and had U.S. “salespeople, publicists and marketers.”
Without meaning to be difficult, I emailed Harcum again to ask what, exactly, being published in the United States means. He referred me back to Random House Canada to “explain the differences in their imprints and to ask why they decided not to publish this title in the U.S.”
This, it seems, is where the crux lies. Random House Canada is owned by U.S. parent Penguin Random House. None of the New York company’s American imprints picked up the book, we’re told, because they didn’t consider it a good fit.
Now, according to Random House Canada, it’s one of their best performing books ever.