There’s been a recent uproar over the New York Times best-seller list that begs two questions: First, do we need more than one best-seller list? Second, can we trust the results of any such list?
Last week there was an uproar over a novel from a no-name author debuting at No. 1 on the New York Times and Young Adult Hardcover Best-Seller List. Some questioned how a book no one had heard of suddenly soared to the top. Upon closer inspection, a number of stores reporting sales figures to the newspaper said they had received similar -sized bulk orders and were asked by the purchaser if the totals would count towards the list. Upon further investigation, the paper, in a rare move, pulled the title off the list completely.
I can verify 100% that best-seller lists have been manipulated for decades and that this latest situation is not surprising at all. It’s only surprising that it was caught and dealt with so harshly and swiftly.
If you have a best-seller list that’s prone to deception and cheating, is the answer to improve the list or do away with it? The bigger question is: Why do we have so many best-seller lists?
You have The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Book Scan, Publishers Weekly, Amazon, B&N, and other lists. How about we just have one?
The other controversy this past week over the NYT best-seller list occurred when Marji Ross, the president and publisher of Regnery Publishing, a conservative publisher, whined that the NYT implemented a liberal bias in its list. The NYT does not reveal its compilation methods and that secrecy hassled to all kinds of issues. Regnery says the NYT relies disproportionately on getting sales figures from stores in liberal areas.
You would think best-seller lists are straight forward, telling you which book sold the most copies in a given week. But it’s tricky.
These lists never account for sales that happen outside the bookstore circuit. If an author sells 300 books at a seminar, the sales count towards a list if a bookstore rep is there to process them, if not, the sales go unrecorded and unrecognized. Some authors sell lots of books this way and they have little chance of hitting a list.
Second problem is the list shows what sells in a specific time period but doesn’t acknowledge the long-term success of a book. For instance, a book could make a splash in one week but then go on to sell a weak amount for months or years to come. Conversely, there could be a book that never sells a ton in any given week but steadily sells dozens and hundreds every week to the point its total sales exceed those of books that had one time hit a best-seller list.
Another issue with best-seller lists is they usually don’t combine formats, but maybe they should. For instance, many books now sell in all formats simultaneously – cloth, trade paper, digital, and audio. Should we combine all formats to see which title sells the best, rather than parse them out by format?
Some best-seller lists, like The New York Times, have always been suspect simply because they count the total orders placed by book stores and not how many copies are sold through the doors. So a store can order 50 copies but only sell 5 that week and yet 50 is the number that’s registered. That’s BS – you can’t predict a bestseller.
Consumers, libraries, stores, and media all play the game. They are each seduced by the term best-seller and are more apt to support such a book than one that lacks that label.
Once you have a list, award, or standard in place, there will always be powerful and competing forces looking to win the prize and some may cheat to get it. Beware when you see the “best-seller” acknowledgment. It may not mean a thing, or worse, it’s a badge of dishonor.
Of course someone is legitimately a best-seller. It would just be nice to know who in fact that is.
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs
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