From The Guardian:
For nine decades, the New York Times bestseller lists have been the industry gold standard when it comes to obtaining a seal of approval that will make readers sit up and pay attention. But like most things in the book industry, it’s something Amazon has in its sights.
Last week the online retailer launched Amazon Charts, which complements the site’s usual hourly updates of bestselling books. The new list combines what’s being ordered from them with data obtained from Kindle and Audible users to find out what books are actually being read and listened to.
It’s an interesting algorithm, and one that has been utilised before, but never formally by Amazon in this way. In 2014, the mathematician Jordan Ellenberg created an index of the most abandoned books, based on Kindle data. So while every man and his dog might have bought a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Thomas Pinketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, not everyone actually read them.
Amazon Charts might open up a whole new set of bestsellers based on books actually read rather than books bought as coffee-table status symbols. But will this carry more weight with the publishing industry – and readers – than the venerable New York Times bestseller tag, which has been the go-to example of bragging rights since 1931?
On the face of it, Amazon Charts might democratise and re-evaluate the bestseller concept, but on the other – like Coca Cola, KFC and Big Mac special sauce – nobody really knows what actually goes into the New York Times’ bestseller list.
It certainly isn’t just a roundup of physical books bought over the counter at bricks-and-mortar stores. A request for an explanation and a breakdown of audience figures for the various NYT bestseller lists which are posted online was greeted with a firm: “We don’t share traffic data at the section level.”
. . . .
One advantage Amazon has is that it subdivides literary categories almost to an atomic level, which has both pros and cons. On the one hand, it gives a leg up to authors working in a genre that might not have its own New York Times bestseller category, and who might never trouble the upper reaches of the general fiction sales charts.
“In general, I do not think the Amazon bestseller tag will carry as much weight for literary works,” Stein says. “Though for genre books, for which a New York Times tag is not possible due to their evaluation system, it might serve the purpose in the same way – as a validation that this book stood out above the others.”
Link to the rest at The Guardian
PG suspects the NYT’s best-seller list formula is a deep secret because disclosing it would show it’s subject to manipulation, put together with wire and chewing gum and would sink the list’s credibility.