Home » Bestsellers, Big Publishing » Online top ranking: what does Amazon Charts mean for the book industry?

Online top ranking: what does Amazon Charts mean for the book industry?

23 May 2017

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.


Bestsellers, Big Publishing

105 Comments to “Online top ranking: what does Amazon Charts mean for the book industry?”

  1. I have to love the comment asking, “why does the Guardian give Amazon so much positive press?”

    My irony meter exploded.

  2. Al the Great and Powerful

    Amazon Charts is useless to me, because it is just the top 20 books, across all genres, that are ‘most sold’ or ‘most read’.

    Checking both categories there is no book I care to read in ‘most read’ and none (except the ones I already read) that I would buy in ‘most sold’.

    I am just not the demographic best seller lists were made for.

    • T.S. Starkenberg

      Agreed. Although it is better than the NYT Bestseller list which reek of manipulation, especially for books deemed by the literati to be of the “literary” quality.

    • I think we’re seeing the first stage of Amazon Charts, Al.

  3. Smart Debut Author

    Proposed tagline for Amazon Charts:

    “The Best Seller List for people who actually read.”

    • the Other Diana

      You’re right.

      I’ve never looked at a NYT or USAT list, but I did check out the Amazon Charts.

      -Voracious Reader

      AKA Person with a book habit

  4. Amazon are definitely on the right track, but this is just a toe in the water. Sales is as much a function of marketing and the author’s existing profile as the innate quality of the book. As a reader, I want to find the books that people couldn’t put down, especially great books from new authors that I have no other way to discover. Imagine if every book in the Kindle store showed an average completion rate and you could search on that.

    • Yep. THat’s why most sold isn’t much interest to me. Most READ, now that’s interesting. 😀

      • I agree about how useful charts are in general, but most read or most sold aren’t that great unless there’s a way to break them down by time.

        I wouldn’t find “most sold” over the lifetime of a book that useful for example. I’d be more interested in monthly and yearly charts broken down by genre.

        • Felix J. Torres

          Why not?
          Some works need word of mouth and time to find their audience.
          One of the biggest dysfunctions of tradpub is their obsession with launch window sales.

          Amazon charts are currently tallied on a weekly basis but me, I’d like to see a book’s sales rate vs time for it’s full lifetime. Put the database online and let slice and dice it by all sorts of parameters to see what relationships pop up.

          • Steven Zacharius

            Bookscan gives you weekly, yearly, and live to date sales from those stores that report. The problem with all of these bestseller lists is that you have absolutely no idea how they’re manipulated. You don’t know with Bookscan or NYT as to which accounts report. You’ll never know from Amazon how their algorithm is calculating their chart either. If they included the weekly sales amount, that would be a help. Amazon shares their print sales with Bookscan but they don’t share their digital numbers.

    • Imagine if every book in the Kindle store showed an average completion rate and you could search on that.

      Ah! That starts to approach what I (as a reader) want. Not only would I like to see completion rates, but completion rates for readers who love the same books I love.

      I think that is what I was subconsciously expecting from the also-boughts – and not getting.

      Seeing what other people bought after they bought Bujold’s A Civil Campaign doesn’t help me find other books I will love. Because the also-boughts usually list all the other books by Bujold (which I’ve already read) and then a bunch of books that – when I read the Look Insides – are clearly not my cup of tea at all.

      Show me instead the books devoured by other readers who (like me) devoured A Civil Campaign. Please! 😉

      • J.M.,

        You know what would be nice? Instead of “also-bought” an “also read.” I know a lot of readers will snatch up a book or box set on sale and then never read it, or pick something up that sounded good but then turned out to be not their cup of tea. An “also read” bar instead of an also-bought bar might make the books that appear there more relevant to someone looking for a similar book.

        • Yes, exactly. Also-reads in which the algorithm factors in completion rates. Nice!

        • Oh, that would be wonderful!

          I mean, as an author it’d be harder to get that initial traction, because you first have to get their attention and create discoverability… but as a reader, especially one who’s picked up a bunch of things and then found they weren’t really my cuppa, that would be delightful!

        • People who finished Book-A also finished Books B, C, and D.

      • Steven Zacharius

        Having gotten to study rates of reading a book from Scribd and Oyster in the past, it’s shocking to see how slow most readers take to read a book. It’s actually terrifying and these are even true for many category genres like romance and mysteries. Keep in mind that the average reader only reads a few books a year.

        • I’ve developed a stricter pattern. I used to read pretty much a book a day for years (on lazy days up to 3). In middle age my eyes tire fast, and they’ll hurt and blur. I rarely read a book straight through in a day anymore. It has to be insanely captivating for me to risk vision strain, cause I’ll need to rest them the next day with no to light reading (horrors).

          Now, I’ll read up to three chapters and if I’m not totally engrossed–absolutely bonkers hooked– it’s gone to the reject pile. I do more dabbling of the novels I buy than full book reading. (KU has been great, as I don’t feel guilty semi-reading a few books at that price.)

          So, I’d love to see the list of books with the highest % of readers who flow right to the very end, because I assume those stories have some serious narrative drive mojo. 😀

        • That’s interesting about average reading speed. I believed that the readers of my books are not average (they are faster), but this confirms it.

          I’ve been able to see reading speed on a book I released a bit more than a year ago, and also on my latest release. Most people seem to read each in 2 to 3 days, and they stay up too late on that last day to do it, finishing in the wee small hours. 😉

  5. ” … what does Amazon Charts mean for the book industry?”

    That they can’t game it like they could the NYTs.

    (Can’t wait for the AU/AG/qig5 to start moaning over it.)

    • They can game it the same way it’s claimed they manipulate the Times list: purchase lots of copies of a title.

      • A little harder to do since Charts doesn’t give added weight to bulk copies of a title.

      • Smart Debut Author

        Not just a “claim” — it’s a well-documented fact.

        Google “ResultSource” — that’s their entire business model, and they are one of many such companies.

        When ebooks hit the scene, the cost of buying your way onto the NYT and USAT list dropped from $150K-ish to less than $10K, because you could do it with $0.99 ebooks instead of $15 hardcovers.

        And suddenly the lists weren’t just being gamed by big publishers and businesspeople-who-wrote-a-book, but by also some indies, too. The irony was delicious… 😀

        I personally know 4 authors that a guy named Kerry Jacobson put on the NYT (and several more he put on the USAT). But he’s also ripped off an equal or greater number of authors — taking their money and delivering maybe half the promised sales, missing the targeted list.

        So, if the empty validation of hitting one of those lists is some kind of big motivator for you as an author, caveat emptor…

      • And hire page flippers for the reads? Either way, it’ll cost them more per game and Amazon may still be able to blunt/kill it if they spot the same patterns each time. (which might hit a non-gaming writer as we’ve seen with some of the other things Amazon is trying to do.)

  6. PG, “[…]would sink the list’s credibility.”

    Would sink WHAT!?

    Good one,sir; well played.


  7. Most authors, indie and traditional, would love to be on the NYT list, still, because READERS still think it means something.

    When The Goldfinch was on the list, it sold two MILLION copies. Even if half of those were returned, and half of the remaining ones were never finished, that’s still a half of a million books read.

    The reviews were plentiful – and NOT uniformly positive. But the book SOLD. That’s for a fat literary novel – those are the numbers to hope for. Those are the numbers PR people love.

    • Smart Debut Author

      NYT featuring was a consequence, not a cause, of Goldfinch’s sales.
      The catalyst was a full-court marketing spend by Hachette.
      Frankly, the book sucked. Too boring to finish. Sophmoric, like a bad Roman-a-clef.
      But when a Big Five publisher spends millions on marketing aimed at establishing one particular book as the one that has to be on your coffee table this season or you’re not truly a member of the literati, then yeah, it sells a few copies. 😉

      NYT listing had very little to do with that, though.

      • I’ve always wanted to target people who bought TGF – and did NOT like it.

        Just have not figured out how to contact them, market to them, etc.

        But they were willing to buy and tackle a big fat book – didn’t like the plot or the characters or it wandered too much for them.

        • Smart Debut Author

          Finding a critical mass of early fans is a challenge every author faces; a challenge that goes double for books targeting the literary genre(s).

          No easy solutions, unfortunately. A lot of trial and error and hard work.

          What’s worked best for me is collecting several hundred emails of true hardcore fans via book backmatter calls-to-action, then using that initial list to seed Facebook lookalike audiences to aggressively advertise to.

          Prior to my first 100,000 sales, I had to rely on Amazon algorithm magic, Bookbubs, and occasional retailer featuring. So, like, mostly it was just luck… (o_O)

          • I have a long way to go before ‘my first 100,000 sales’ – but other than Amazon ads, which I’m tackling now, my best bet is still ‘write the next book,’ and I’m working on that.

            I haved proved to myself that if I do nothing, sales drop completely off the charts. So I know the Amazon ads work. Now I have to figure out how to make them work better, and pay for themselves.

            Learning curves everywhere, and choices in how to spend limited time and energy. Nothing we don’t all face when we start. And we are all beginners once.

            • Smart Debut Author

              ‘First 100K sales’ wasn’t meant as a humblebrag; I mentioned it only because fewer than 1% of readers–even readers that loved the book–will give you their email. So prior to reaching that number of sales, it’s hard to accumulate enough fan emails to seed a great FB lookalike audience you can advertise to directly and make a profit on.

              Which is why prior to that # one tends to be more reliant upon luck, algorithm recommendations, etc.

              Kind of a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma we all face at first.

              • I’m not offended at all by bragging – humble or otherwise.

                I’m just impressed.

                I’m really glad there are indies doing very well – because it means that the right efforts on my part may lead to me doing well.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  Don’t be impressed. A lot of it was just dumb luck.

                  And worse, the part I’m failing at now is the part that is most under our control as writers, and it’s exactly what you said above: just finishing the next book.

                  I’m on my way to becoming a two-book has-been, which ain’t particularly impressive. And it’s nobody’s fault but my own.

                  If you’re getting words onto paper every day, *that* is inspiring. To me, anyway. So kudos.

                • Hey SDA, this happens to a lot of people. Success freezes them. It’s weird, but it’s definitely a thing. No idea how to push through it, some never do. I had NOTHING to say for like 6 months once my first couple of books sold a few thousand. And that was only a few thousand!

                  Somehow I found the joy and fun once again and am doing fine now. There’s nothing better than finishing a book. Nothing that makes a day more satisfying than getting some words in (and walking, I love walking too).

                  Good luck.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  Thanks, Jo.

              • T.S. Starkenberg

                At some point, are you going to have to change your name from Smart Debut Author to Smart Veteran Author? 😉

                • Smart Debut Author

                  Nope. “Beginner’s Mind” (or mindset, anyway) is worth hanging on to. 🙂

                • Smart Debut Author

                  Although the “Smart” part might have outlived its original ironic provenance as a play on words…

                  i.e. “Any Smart Debut Author knows…” or “Any Smart Debut Author would tell you…”

      • Steven Zacharius

        Publishers do not spend millions of dollars on a single book for promotion. If they were spending millions of dollars on a single book they would lose boat loads of money on that title.

        • Smart Debut Author

          Depends on the publisher. Depends on the title.

          Kensington may not spend millions on any of theirs, but Penguin Random House sure did for Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman.” And Hachette certainly did for “Goldfinch” — they basically re-wallpapered the internet with ads for it.

          • Felix J. Torres

            The reworked 50 Shades (GREY, was it?) also got a big promo campaign in addition to the big payola.

            • Smart Debut Author

              Yeah, good catch — GREY was a big marketing campaign.

              And how much do you think PRH is planning to spend marketing the Obamas’ pair of books? After spending a cool $65 million on the advance?

              The marketing budget for those two titles will be tens of millions of dollars, not just millions of dollars…

              • Smart Debut Author

                If Steve ran in the same circles as the big girls & boys, he’d know that… 😉

                • Steven Zacharius

                  Smart Debut. You really have no idea of what you’re talking about. None at all. Publishers do not spend tens of millions of dollars on promotion on a Single title. Not even remotely close. But you seem to know so much and continue to try and say that I know so little. We happen to publish some #1 NYT bestselling authors and I know what publishers including others spend on promotion. You unfortunately have no clue and continue to misinform everyone and try to make them think that you know what you’re talking about. Have a good career.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  New vocabulary word for you.


                  Look it up.

            • The reworked 50 Shades (GREY, was it?) also got a big promo campaign in addition to the big payola.

              Where is all this promotion? Who is the target audience? What venues?

              I saw big bucks promoting the Fifty Shades movies, but nothing for the book.

              What am I missing? All I see is promotion inside bookstores and on Amazon. Where can I see the big bucks in action?

          • Steven Zacharius

            You are skewing your numbers dramatically. They did not spend millions on any of those books you are mentioning. If you wanted to say hundreds of thousands, that would be more accurate, but definitely not millions.

            The Obama book is actually two books for that amount of money. And it will indeed be in many formats and include loads of rights. They will have huge foreign right’s sales that will help cover this advance. The marketing budget will not be tens of millions of dollars. Your sense of promotion dollars is enormously out of proportion. You couldn’t spend tens of millions of dollars. It would be impossible. A big ad campaign is not tens of millions of dollars.

            • Smart Debut Author

              No need to be defensive about Kensington’s meager marketing budgets, Steve–no one here expects you to be able to compete with the big players.

              But spewing misinformation at authors in the hopes of lowering their expectations is pretty reprehensible on your part.

              Authors can do basic math — many have run businesses that involved marketing. Authors aren’t dumb shut-ins, so don’t do us the discourtesy of treating us like we are…

              • Steven Zacharius

                I never misinform authors. Never. Why don’t you do yourself the trouble of speaking to some of the authors that we are publishing? Why don’t you start with two huge indie authors that’s we are now doing in print and ask them if they think I’ve been misleading? Try Joe Konrath or Marie Force. Or if you’d like to speak to some of our NYT #1 authors, try Fern Michaels or Lisa Jackson, both of whom have been published by us for 20 years.

                I will never waste my time again replying to your comments. Just talk to yourself here instead of trying to learn something about the business that might be useful to you. Really a shame that you don’t want a publisher to come into this blog and share traditional publishing insight with others. BTW our deals to publish Konrath and Force came from me commenting on various blogs like these and Joe’s. I have never given misinformation to authors in hopes of lowering their expectations. All I’ve done is correct information that is totally one sided and usually not accurate. I wonder how PG feels about the way you treat others here. Good day

                • Smart Debut Author

                  I have spoken to quite a few authors you publish.

                  What many of them say about Kensington ain’t pretty… and how you treat your 2 cash cow authors has little bearing on that.

                  And I know that Joe & Marie, who you mention above, didn’t give you their far-more-lucrative digital rights. But hey, enjoy those 50% returns on those low-margin mass market paperbacks… 😉

              • Authors aren’t dumb shut-ins, so don’t do us the discourtesy of treating us like we are…

                Well, I’m pretty dumb. Where can we see the big bucks promotion?

                • Smart Debut Author

                  Nowadays, targeted social media ads — especially Facebook Ads– are one of the biggest and most effective marketing vectors (aside from front-table “payola” as Felix so endearingly describes it).

                  So a random person wouldn’t necessarily see a lot of it UNLESS their Facebook history happened to identify them as a reasonably likely buyer of a particular book.

                  In the internet age, smart marketing has moved away from indiscriminate old-media astroturfing approaches toward precision targeting of potential buyers.

                  But in the case of GREY and Harper Lee’s book, too, it was both. Posters were even plastered on the sides of buses everywhere in big cities… you couldn’t escape it, really. 😀

                • If that’s the case, how do we know millions are being spent on a single book?

                • Smart Debut Author

                  Talk to agents.

                  And to honest publishers, unlike Steve here, who spends way too much of his time trolling author sites lying like a rug and trying to scrape up manuscripts for his house on the cheap, by conning desperate self-publishers who don’t know any better.

                  Publishers spend 7-8% of their net on marketing — but that disproportionately goes to the top few “splash” titles.

                  In every single media business — whether we’re talking books, movies, or video games — marketing makes up a fat slice of each AAA title’s overall budget.

                  The idea that a publisher who spent tens of millions on an advance, would then only invest a single-digit percent of that amount on marketing to try and recoup their investment is ludicrous. It’s the kind of idiotic claim you would only hear a con artist make who is trying to lower the marketing expectations of naive authors.

                  Why do you think Steve comes trolling around here so often?

                  He’s hunting for authors who lack the representation of an agent or lawyer — authors who won’t know the stuff he’s saying about how little publishers inviest is total nonsense.

                  But don’t take it from me. Here’s a typical agent’s take on marketing expectations: $1 of marketing budget per copy printed and shipped. And that’s for a typical deal, not a “book-of-the-year” blockbuster.


                • Steven Zacharius

                  First of all we prefer authors that are agented. And you finally posted something accurate in your link about marketing. $1.00 per hardcover is the correct amount for promotion that publishers use as a guideline. So tell me how you get to your number of tens of millions on the Obama books. Do you think they are going to sell 30,000,000 copies? Maybe you can look up on bookscan how many books have sold 20,000,000 copies in hardcover and then share with everyone what you find. Let me make it easier for you, first find out how many have sold 1,000,000 copies in hardcover in 2016 so you can at least claim that the publisher would have spent at least $1,000,000. In fact let me make it even easier for you since you might not have access to bookscan. In all of 2016 there were 3 books that sold more than 1,000,000 copies. A JK Rowling book sold 4,000,000, diary of a wimpy kid sold 1,100,000 and bill O’Reilly sold 1,100,000. Now that doesn’t include library sales which would add some more copies. But the next book is the whistler by Grisham that sold 650,000 copies without library sales. So since you shared the info about the budget being 1.00 per copy, please explain to your followers here how you calculate publishers spend millions in promotion on books.
                  And if you call what I’m doing here trolling for authors I guess we’ve been successful since we managed to sign up Marie Force and Joe Konrath for their print rights on some of their biggest books. When you land a traditional publishing contract, which I’m sure you would claim you don’t even want, please share with the world under your real name so I can congratulate you. In the meantime I don’t think it’s necessary for you to belittle everything that the only traditional publisher in this forum says. I would like to think that some of the readers of this site would like to hear from a publisher who is willing to share their thoughts. If not, I know not to bother replying. But you were right, I couldn’t let this one go after you shared the math behind how much a publisher spends on promotion. $1.00 per book for a hardcover is exactly right. Mass market is considerably less. Also, contrary to what you said about Kensington having two cash cows, I would suggest you get better informed. We have many NYT bestsellers as well as Amazon bestsellers, since that’s all you seem to defend and care about. BTW we also had a book that sold well over 2,000,000 copies in the non-fiction area a few years ago. So we publish a bit more than you think. We publish about 550 new print books each year and around 250 digital first titles, some of which have even hit the NYT ebook bestseller list when before they discontinued it.

                • The idea that a publisher who spent tens of millions on an advance, would then only invest a single-digit percent of that amount on marketing to try and recoup their investment is ludicrous.

                  Lacking empirical evidence, it is very reasonable.

                  The notion that millions are spent on single books appears to be speculation.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  Eh. The math that Steve just agreed to says they do.

                  For PRH to recoup the Obamas’ $65 million advance via $30 list hardcovers at a 45% bookstore wholesale discount, they would have to sell at least 4 million copies of the Obama books — 2 million each.

                  At even the basic $1 marketing spend per hardcover printed that Steve agreed is accurate, that’s over $2 million marketing budget per book.

                  But that’s super low-side conservative.

                  Don’t forget some of that advance will need to be recouped via lower-margin paperbacks, with their own marketing budget, and PRH also needs to sell enough additional copies to also cover print costs of approx $1.50/book (and another $0.50-0.75 to print and “remainder” a third again more copies than they actually sell ;P … so they’ll need to sell the equivalent of at least 5-6 million hardcovers just to break even.

                  So according to Steve’s math, that’s $5-6 million in marketing, even if they only spend the typical amount per copy. But any competent agent will tell you that on their biggest books of the year, a BPH will spend more. Lots more.

          • Steven Zacharius

            And internet advertising is very inexpensive in comparison to print advertising in major publications like the NYT or any major magazine like People.

            • Smart Debut Author

              You truly have no clue, do you… either that or you’re being deliberately disingenuous.

              Internet advertising — IF DONE RIGHT, and that doesn’t mean wasting money on worthless $150 banners on industry sites like PublishersWeekly — can be VERY EXPENSIVE. And even so, it can deliver a positive return on that investment, in directly attributable, trackable sales.

              I know self-published indies with internet marketing budgets bigger than the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” you claim is all that the biggest publishers spend on their biggest books…


              • Steven Zacharius

                You apparently have been misled quite a bit in terms of what people or companies spend on promotion.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  The only person spreading misleading information here is yourself.

                  The rest of us are sharing knowledge to help each other.

              • Steven Zacharius

                I sure hope that they are not sharing your information because it’s totally incorrect and uninformed. I am done coming to this site because of the misinformation that is spread. And why wouldn’t an author who has supposedly sold 100,000 copies of her book, probably at $.99 want to use her real name instead of hiding behind a screen name of SDA. Very professional.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  Who are you kidding? You’ll be back. 😀

                  But you really need to get some fresh material, Steve — your comments on every single site for the past 2 years read like a broken record.

                  You’re very boring.

              • Steven Zacharius

                BTW I wouldn’t consider PW wasteful. It’s the best way to reach indie bookstores but that market is of no interest to you since you’re not in print. I don’t even know if you’ve ever been published.

              • Internet advertising is far less expensive compared to print advertising. You can blanket FB and other sites for far less than a $75,000 ad in People or other major magazine.

                If any of you would like to check out my credibility versus what SDA is trying to do by discrediting my company and my personal reputation, please feel free to contact any reputable agent from the biggest at William Morris, Writer’s House, Trident Media or any other NYC literary agency. Dealing with an agent is much easier than an author not having an agent because we already have standard boilerplate for our contracts with each agency. So contrary what SDA was saying, I’m not here trolling for authors. I have never requested a single author here to send me a manuscript; in fact most of you don’t even use your name, so it would be impossible. Also, just so you know, I’ve had very informative conversations in person with data guy, and was quite impressed with what he does. I am probably the only publisher from a larger publishing house that comes into this forum. If all of you think the information I provide is meaningless and not useful, I would certainly stop coming here. Meanwhile, I think it’s important to correct information that is clearly wrong or misdirected.

                • If all of you think the information I provide is meaningless and not useful, I would certainly stop coming here.

                  Is there reason to think SDA speaks for all of us?

                • Steven Zacharius

                  Well that’s good to hear Terrence and I appreciate that. I have a lot of members here who email me privately with comments but I find that in general most people here will not engage when a traditional publisher is being attacked or maligned by one person continuously; especially when that person like SDA comments so often. One of the things that I enjoyed with Joe Konrath two years ago was when we got into a back and forth dialog that went on and on for about a week. I believe he said it was his most widely commented blog post he ever had. The best part was that we had an open discussion without name calling or criticizing each other. That later lead to me contacting him and asking him if he’d be interested in Kensington Publishing some of his bestselling ebooks that had never been in print before, in mass market. Hopefully this is something that will work out well for both of us. He’s a great writer and this will open his audience up to people who still prefer to read a printed book. Because of our deal with Joe, Marie Force, one of the bestselling romance authors in print and digital, contacted me and asked if we would be interested in publishing her Gansett Island books in mass market. We signed a three book deal to try it out and both of us are excited about this opportunity. Marie and Joe are both pros and are very knowledgeable about self publishing as well as traditional publishing.

            • Steven Zacharius

              Yes they didn’t give us their digital rights. That’s not what we wanted. Remember the term hybrid publishing. Hopefully we will all do fine in publishing some of their prior released digital titles for the first time print. Clearly you know nothing about traditional publishing and the model of publishing with returns. And don’t make blanket generalizations about authors of Kensington that are saying things that aren’t pretty. I’m happy to chat with any of our authors any time. Many of them call me and I see them at conferences. Many of them come even though we no longer publish their new books, like Heather Graham. But you apparently know better.

              Over and out.

              • Smart Debut Author

                Clearly you know nothing about traditional publishing and the model of publishing with returns…

                You’re right. Clearly a returns-based publishing model that throws away a third of the books it prints (or half, for mass-market) — a publishing model that is now dismayed to find those “returns” competing cheaply for the buy box at their biggest retailer — reflects some kind of awe-inspiring business genius on the part of traditional publishers… 😀

                • Steven Zacharius

                  Done replying to you. You have no idea how traditional publishing models work and apparently no desire to learn castigating anything that is said by someone with experience in this area. It’s called math and if you knew anything about mass market practices and methods you would have a. Idea as to how a 50% sale can be extremely profitable for authors and publishers. The third party seller button is a non issue and will stop having any effect because 99% of those books are remainders and Amazon has changed their policy to not allow any marking of books to be created spidered a new book as of a week ago. But you’re an expert, you should know this already.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  US mass market paperback sales (from Bookscan):

                  2013 2014 2015 2016 2017
                  80.0M 71.8M 64.3M 59.4M down another 5% YTD

                • Steven Zacharius

                  The mass market business is about 60,000,000 books per year. I wouldn’t consider that inconsequential. That would be over $400,000,000 at retail dollars using 6.99 as an average price.

                • Felix J. Torres

                  STD: check out the numbers for the turn of the century, say 2002:


                  Adult mass market alone contributed $1.7B.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  Comparing $ estimates from the AAP to units from Bookscan takes some nuance, especially since the AAP reports are based on books shipped, and only factoring in returns some months after the fact. So they show bogus “seasonality”.

                  But even an apples-to-apples comparison of Bookscan data going back to 2008 shows that mass-market paperback sales have fallen to roughly 40% of what they were a decade ago.

                  2008 – 131.2M
                  2009 – 126.3M
                  2010 – 109.5M
                  2011 – 83.5M
                  2012 – 66.4M
                  2013 – 80.0M
                  2014 – 71.8M
                  2015 – 64.3M
                  2016 – 59.4M
                  2017 – down 5% YTD

                  It’s a supermarket and drugstore-rack format targeted at the very same readers (i.e. voracious genre readers) who have now already mostly switched to digital. And that oh-so-loudly-touted Walmart shelf space is disappearing just as rapidly — Bookscan also shows sales at “mass merchandisers” like Walmart dropping 8%-12% a year for the past decade.

                  The mass market paperback is a format with a dim future. MMPB economics aren’t all that exciting for authors, either… a $0.60 – $0.80 royalty for a MMPB sale, compared to a $1.75 royalty for a similarly-priced traditionally-published $9.99 ebook (or $2.80 for a $3.99 indie ebook 🙂 ).

                • Felix J. Torres

                  The drop would look even worse if you could separate bestseller reprints and backlist reissues from massmarket originals. Those are verging on (intentional) extinction.

                  Massmarket paperback started out as a reprint format and that is where the BPHs are taking it.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  A massmarket paperback original?

                  Dear lord, why would any self-respecting author agree to that?

                  MMPB already make up less than 10% of all print sales in unit terms, and less than 5% of print sales in dollar terms.

                  A publisher not doing a hardcover release for their authors is miserly enough. But in 2017, a print publisher cheaping out of even doing a trade paperback for an author is just plain taking advantage of the naive…

                • Dear lord, why would any self-respecting author agree to that?


                • Boy if you’re criticizing the less expensive mass market books, how would you not criticize low priced ebooks? The issue of third party sellers on Amazon is a problem because the retailers that were selling the books were selling books marked as NEW, when they in fact, were hurts or remainders and were clearly marked as so. They were misleading the consumer, but I guess you don’t care about that. It also represented about only 3% of all books sold, and were generally older books that have been out of print. Amazon has now changed their terms to clearly state that the book can not have any marks on it, which would eliminate all books that have been sold as remainders, since they are marked on the spine generally with a marker.

                • In regards to any self-respecting author not wanting to be published as a mass market original; maybe you should look at new releases a bit more. There are hundreds of major authors that publish mm originals every year from all of the BPH. For SDA to say that it would be miserly for any publisher not to offer any author anything but a hardcover is ludicrous. Take a look at the huge romance authors, many of the thriller writers, mystery writers, and see how many are mm originals. And many of those authors are getting very very large advances for those mm originals. SDA clearly thinks the only way to get published is to self publish as an ebook but not everyone agrees with that philosophy. Keep in mind that from BPH, 65% or so or all revenue is from printed books still.

                • Smart Debut Author

                  “Keep in mind that from BPH, 65% or so or all revenue is from printed books still…”

                  … as long as you lump in nonfiction and children’s board books.

                  Adult fiction, even for BPHs, is 2/3 digital.

  8. It will be great fun comparing the NYT Best Sellers with Amazon’s Most Read.

    • Smart Debut Author

      Indeed it will.

      And with the Amazon Best Sellers list, too… 😉

      Here’s food for thought:

      46% of the YTD print units that Bookscan reports were Amazon sales, not bookstore sales.

      So if a book is near the top of Amazon’s list but doesn’t appear on the NYT list, then we know the NYT deliberately chose to ignore it despite it having sales higher than at least half of the books they chose to list as NYT Best Sellers.

      And if that book is available at other retailers than Amazon, we know the NYT wasn’t even relying on their weasely “single retailer” exemption to drop it, but just plain cooking the books.

      Amazon Charts is Bezos’ way of shining a revealing light on the NYT’s blatant fraudulence and hypocrisy….

      This ought to be fun to watch. 🙂

      • An added bonus is that people who want to look at the Most Read List have to go to Amazon to see it. And right next to each title is the buy button.

        • Smart Debut Author

          But the real prize is supplanting the NYT as the go-to bestseller list in the minds of non-voracious readers.

          If Amazon truly is gunning for the NYT List, the next logical move we’ll see is an aggressive paid advertising campaign for Amazon Charts, with banners targeting the arts sections of online newspapers, big book blogs, possibly even industry sites like PW, etc.

          Out of morbid curiosity, I’m keeping an eye out for when those ads actually start appearing…

          • If they are really gunning for the NYT list, Bezos will put the Amazon list in the Washington Post.

            • That would be an excellent idea. Bestseller lists help sell books. People like to be guided when choosing a book, whether it be amazon reviews or a spot on a bestseller list. The USA Today list is pretty accurate based on sales information that they can obtain. You all know that for some reason Kindle does not report sales to any tracking service. This is why publishers joined PubTrack Digital to start reporting sales of ebooks. This way PubTrack digital can capture Kindle sales from the publishers directly. Obviously it doesn’t include Amazon published authors or indie publishing since these sales are never reported by Amazon unfortunately. This is rather unfortunate because if digital sales were provided on all titles, there would be more print/hybrid deals being offered to digital only authors.

              • You all know that for some reason Kindle does not report sales to any tracking service.

                In general terms, it’s the different incentives the retailer and manufacturer have.

                If the retailer sees that he sells 100 books regardless of what a list says, he doesn’t care if the sales are for goods from producer-1, producer-2, or producer-3.

                But, the producer very much wants to sell more of those 100 books.

                So the question becomes: Do best seller lists that are a partial function of Amazon sales increase total sales for Amazon? How would Amazon data increase Amazon sales?

                • Steven Zacharius

                  It’s way to early to tell what the new Amazon chart impact is going to be. But this seems to be an attempt to replace the NYT bestsellers lists which have been cut way back in many formats. People like bestsellers lists. It helps guide them when making a selection or bringing attention to an item. The problem with Amazon as well as the NYT list is that no one really knows the secret sauce behind it. NYT doesn’t share the list of reporting stores although everyone knows the large accounts that report. No one has any idea of how the algorithm from Amazon works, nor will they ever. We don’t know if it’s going to favor Amazon published books or if it’s truly going to be based on sales. The bookscan list is all based on sales but they also don’t certain segments like library sales because it’s not point of sales information. They do report the list of accounts that provide information but of course it doesn’t include books from indie authors from Amazon because that data is not shared. To date, there is no ideal situation other than an author sharing royalty statements that would clearly identify their actual sales. When we’ve decided to publish authors that have been self published previously we’ve reviewed royalty statements to see how many copies were sold and at what price.

      • am I missing something? Most read could only be for ebooks so it is a “limited” and blatantly Amazon knowledge base, correct?

        And…to note, what is most suspicious of the NY Bestseller list is the number of books that are “bestsellers” upon publication. Does not a book require sales to become a bestseller? Is the NY Times not putting the cart before the horse? Amazon, though, is just as bad. The list a book as a “bestseller” months before it is even available. I see this all the time with an upcoming book with the little orange tag pointing to it as a “bestseller.”

        Lastly, sorry this is long, can someone Please force Amazon to define their own category of “bestseller.” Every single author is now a “bestseller” after they have 3 or 4 reviews. Classically, the number was 10,000 for a book to be called a bestseller. For any credibility, Amazon should have a standard and make the authors adhere to Only calling themselves a bestselling author if that number is met.

        • Amazon, though, is just as bad. The list a book as a “bestseller” months before it is even available.

          But, not for Most Read…

          Where does the classical definition of 10,000 come from? Says who?

        • For their bestseller lists I understand that Amazon treats pre-orders as sales at the time of pre-order so a popular book can become a bestseller before its release. The alternative, I guess, is that a lot of books would jump to the top of a listing for about 5 minutes after midnight on their publication date.

          As for the NYT listing a book as a best seller at publication I suppose a lot of people could go into the selected bookshops on the publication date but I’m suspicious about this unless the author is J K Rowling.

          This immediate bestseller thing is apparently not new; I am reminded of something KKR recently wrote on the subject of the NYT bestseller lists (she was talking about the situation before the year 2000):

          “I was—and am—pretty proud of the USA Today listing, because the USA Today list was based on books shipped—an actual number, not some arcane list of bookstores, put together to promote an agenda … I started comparing the sales figures on the USA Today list with the Times bestsellers and realized that the books on the Times list sometimes didn’t even make the USA Today list until the week after they appeared on the Times list. Meaning the mention on the Times list boosted sales outside of the prescribed bookstores—y’know, like the rest of the world.”

          I assume that the whole point of getting into the NYT list is to persuade other bookshops to order the book (though this will not stop the later returns).

        • Steven Zacharius

          Showing the actual sales number would go a long way to proving the authenticity of the list for any bestseller list. Bookscan does this but it doesn’t count all sales, only those accounts that have point of sales information available. That doesn’t include library sales and many supermarkets for example.

      • Steven Zacharius

        There is a lot more to the NYT list or Bookscan list than just Amazon. It also depends on the format and genre of the book. For example, for a mass market book, far greater sales would be coming from WalMart than Amazon; not even close.

      • Steven Zacharius

        You’re not going to have any way to verify the Amazon lists, just like there is no way with the NYT list. The only one is Bookscan that can be checked because they have units sold. The USA today list has been very good as well. But I do agree that there are many books, particularly in paperback that never made it to the NYT list that should have. They didn’t because of bias on the part of the NYT. That’s why it’s critical to specify units sold. The only problem I have with Amazon charts is including the KU portion because there is no way for that to be verified. When you’re in KU you can download books and they can sit there forever without reading them. So unless they are going to share the stats as to how fast the book was read, how far, the KU sales don’t really mean much. Plus they are also deeply discounted sales where the author is getting a very small royalty and the publisher is getting paid very little. When KU started it was a full royalty and sale for the publisher, but it has changed now. If you’re going to count them in your “read” numbers, the data should be shared. This would be like HQN including sales in their bookclub numbers, when just because you received the book, doesn’t mean you read it. It’s important to know what you’re measuring and how accurately. If Amazon counts only 100% read books, that’s fine; but the numbers should be shared to make more sense. When you’re not paying anything for a book other than a subscription fee for the month, and you’re an avid reader downloading 20 books per month, those aren’t really true sales. They are reads and are probably more similar to a library read than a traditional sale.

        • Will the chart for KU books count downloads? That would be completely meaningless, since many downloaded books are never read. Surely it will count pages read. Although even that would be more meaningful if some indication was given as to what percentage of readers finished the book.

          100,000 people reading the first 25 pages of a 500-page book and then quitting is very different from 5,000 people reading all 500 pages, even though both would yield 2,500,000 pages read.

          • It would also be a lot more accurate if the bestseller lists were based on retail dollars, rather than units sold. This way you could make an accurate comparison of a book priced at $5.99 for an ebook versus $.99. Everyone books dollars, not units sold. KU is a stickier issue because of the subscription model and what’s counted as a sale. KU can make a major difference in sales but since Kindle changed the way they pay authors and publishers, it’s not nearly as attractive as it used to be. Prior to last year, they would pay publishers the full price of a book as soon as it was downloaded in KU. Now they have changed that to a maximum dollar amount and it’s a fraction of what it used to be. Once they were able to build KU up to a significant amount of members, they changed their model. This is why most traditional publishers are no longer in KU and it’s made up mostly of indie published books.

        • When you’re not paying anything for a book other than a subscription fee for the month, and you’re an avid reader downloading 20 books per month, those aren’t really true sales.

          Of course they are sales. Money is paid, and goods or services are provided.

          From an accounting perspective, it’s probably booked as subscription income at the end of the month.

          Thought experiment: If the only way to get a book was through services like KU, would we say no books are sold?

          • You would still have sales but at a much lower amount received per book. This is why it would be more accurate to use retail dollars than units. But I don’t see this happening any time soon.

            • Unit price will definitely fall. When supply increases, prices fall. Subscriptions are just a means of reducing prices. One way or another, prices fall.

              I’m not sure how using dollars instead of units helps consumers choose a book.

              • Steven Zacharius

                The low price of subscription services is why all of the big publishers have not permitted their books to be in KU other than maybe a handful of titles. Subscription services are not a viable business model which is why Oyster went out of business. Genre readers are too voracious to be able to be paying only 10.00 per month to be able to read unlimited amounts of books. The royalties that have to be paid out by the retailer make this a losing proposition. Scribd has also had to cut back in the titles offered. Amazon can afford the loss to put others out of business and build up their mailing lists. The model has basically become dependent on self published books and Amazon published books. If you want to read traditional bestselling authors it’s not a good model for the reader because you won’t find their books. Even many indie authors don’t put their books in KU because of the low payouts. But from my personal experience they can sell a big number of units on a well reviewed title. We used to partake in the program but stopped.

                • Sure. Lots of people don’t participate in subscriptions, just like they don’t participate in price cutting.

                  But supply will still push down prices. Subscriptions are one way, cheap independents are another. We can’t get away from falling prices. But, we can say those subscription eyeball hours aren’t being aimed at the rest of the market.

                  It’s interesting to consider what percentage of eyeball hours are devoted to subscription books. I don’t know because nobody knows the total eyeball hours devoted to reading.

                • Steven Zacharius

                  A subscription service for the retailer is like a gym. They only make money if people sign up for a monthly membership and don’t use it. Otherwise the retailer loses money after more than a few books are read in a month. Although it has gotten easier since they started lowering their royalties paid but that also removed most of the bestsellers from the program. Having seen the weekly reading of thousands of books sold through Scribd and Oyster, I can tell you that it’s terrifying to see how long the average member takes to read a book and how often they don’t even finish it.

              • Smart Debut Author

                Self-serving publisher spin aside, a few things to consider when you hear or read BS concern-trolling about how KU “hurts authors”:

                1) Amazon is paying $200M+ a year to indie authors for KU reads.
                2) $0.0045-$0.005 per KENP = $0.008 per print-page equivalent.
                3) thus, a KU read of a 350 page novel pays the author $2.80 — the same as a $3.99 indie sale.
                4) Incidentally, that’s 4-5 times as much as a sale of the same book in mass market paperback pays the author in royalties.

                Next time you hear a publisher moaning about how KU “hurts authors”, keep that $200M a year in mind. It isn’t the authors that KU is hurting… 😀

  9. PG – credibility? They have credibility?

  10. I expect to see a lot of ADS from NYT Book Review fanboys.

    Looking forward to laughing a lot, too! 🙂

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.