Does Anybody Know What a Bestseller Is?

10 November 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Bestseller lists have long been powerful marketing tools for the industry. In short, they sell books. But they have proliferated, with more lists that group books according to different metrics, and industry insiders are wondering whether they wield as much power as they used to. When nearly any title can be called a bestseller, does becoming a bestseller still matter?

. . . .

Historically, bestseller lists were broken down along two major lines: format and category. The largest groupings were nonfiction and fiction. Those groups were then broken down by the three major print formats: hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperback. The introduction of the fourth format—e-books—disrupted the way bestseller lists are compiled, as it did many other parts of the industry. Because e-books are predominantly sold online and not in stores, their sales can’t be tracked in the same way that print sales are: by collecting data from physical retailers.

Further complicating the bestseller list landscape was Amazon’s introduction of multiple bestseller lists. The e-tailer, which tracks sales of its titles in real time, publishes a wealth of lists, broken down by format and also by multiple subcategories. There are “overall” print and Kindle bestsellers on the site, but also numerous subcategories like “Crafts, Hobbies & Home,” “Humor & Entertainment,” and “Law.”

. . . .

The New York Times famously pulls data for its lists from a select and secret sample of retailers, and Amazon, while reporting its print sales, does not, for the most part, disclose sales of e-books. The lists that are arguably the most transparent, like PW’s, rely on NPD BookScan’s point-of-sale data, which tracks 80%–85% of print sales in the country but doesn’t include data on e-book sales. Other news outlets, such as the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, run their own lists, and organizations like the American Booksellers Association produces multiple lists, including an overall list of bestsellers in ABA bookstores and regional lists.

The sheer number of lists and Amazon’s decision not to widely share its e-book sales figures (despite the fact that BookScan has for years asked the company to take part in its sales aggregation program) means that there is not a true national bestseller list that can definitively identify what the top-selling books are across all formats in a particular week.

. . . .

Ironically for booksellers, titles dubbed bestsellers aren’t necessarily popular with customers.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

First and foremost, as the OP indicates, bestseller lists are marketing tools, particularly for traditional publishers and meatspace bookstores.

But what good is a marketing tool if you can’t control it?

It’s an open secret that traditional bestseller lists like the Times and WSJ lists can be and are gamed to create artificial bestsellers.

Is there a downside for engaging in such gaming? Who is going to punish fakers and how is a respected independent authority going to know for certain that a book that made a bestseller list was not, in fact, a bestseller?

In this respect, the NYT’s well-known secrecy about how its bestseller lists are created is, for PG, an indication that the lists aren’t to be trusted. Transparency would permit an interested observer to examine the NYT methods for errors and biases. If we’re to trust the NYT lists, how about an audit by an independent outside accounting firm?

An independent audit will never happen because the NYT likes its black box. Numbers of unknown quantity and quality go in one end of the box and ratings come out the other. It’s the definition of obscurantism.

Why is a newspaper even in the business of compiling a bestseller list? Why does the NYT exclude some of the biggest-selling books because they’re “perennial sellers”? (see the NYT methodology below) Does that mean a book can be on the NYT bestseller list for three months, then drop off the list because it’s become “perennial” even though its sales have continued at the same or higher levels?

Further, PG isn’t certain what a bestseller is. Is it #1 in a category? #1 overall? Is it a book that makes it into the top 25 bestsellers on somebody’s list?

If a book is #1 for a day or an hour, is it a bestseller?

While this is not legal advice, PG suggests it would be difficult to charge and convict a publisher or an author for false advertising for using the terms, “bestseller” or “bestselling novel” or something similar.

Here’s the NYT’s current disclosure of its methodology for compiling its lists. PG found lots of wiggle room and many gray areas, but perhaps he’s overly suspicious.

A version of this Best Sellers report appears in the November 12, 2017 issue of The New York Times Book Review. Rankings on weekly lists reflect sales for the week ending October 28, 2017.

Rankings reflect unit sales reported on a confidential basis by vendors offering a wide range of general interest titles. Every week, thousands of diverse selling locations report their actual sales on hundreds of thousands of individual titles. The panel of reporting retailers is comprehensive and reflects sales in stores of all sizes and demographics across the United States.

The book selling universe is comprised of well-established vendors as well as emerging ones. The sales venues for print books include many hundreds of independent book retailers; national, regional and local chains; scores of online and multimedia entertainment retailers; supermarkets, university, gift and big-box department stores; and newsstands.

E-book rankings reflect sales from leading online vendors of e-books in a variety of popular e-reader formats and are included in our combined fiction, combined nonfiction, advice, children’s series and monthly lists. Titles are included regardless of whether they are published in both print and electronic formats or just one format. In general, publisher credits for e-books are listed under the corporate publishing name instead of by publisher’s division or imprint, unless by special request.

The appearance of a ranked title reflects the fact that sales data from reporting vendors has been provided to The Times and has satisfied commonly accepted industry standards of universal identification (such as ISBN13 and EISBN13 codes). All identities, anecdotal, contextual, and other information about the retail sales of any title, as well as overall sales data, are provided with the expectation and assurance of confidentiality by every vendor and are protected by Non-Disclosure Agreements.

Sales are defined as completed transactions by individuals during the period on or after the official publication date of a title. Institutional, special interest, group or bulk purchases, if and when they are included, are at the discretion of The New York Times Best-Seller List Desk editors based on standards for inclusion that encompass proprietary vetting and audit protocols, corroborative reporting and other statistical determinations. When included, such bulk purchases appear with a dagger (†).

Publishers and vendors of all ranked titles must conform in a timely fashion to The New York Times Best-Seller Lists requirement to allow for examination and independent corroboration of their reported sales for that week. Sales are statistically weighted to represent and accurately reflect all outlets proportionally nationwide. An asterisk (*) indicates that a book’s sales are barely distinguishable from those of the book above.

Among the categories not actively tracked at this time are: perennial sellers, required classroom reading, textbooks, reference and test preparation guides, e-books available exclusively from a single vendor, journals, workbooks, calorie counters, shopping guides, periodicals and crossword puzzles.

The New York Times Best Sellers are compiled and archived by The Best-Seller Lists Desk of The New York Times News Department, and are separate from the Culture, Advertising and Business sides of The New York Times Company.

If you are a book retailer interested in reporting your store’s weekly sales to The New York Times Best-Seller Lists, send a request here.

Please direct other questions and feedback to

The YA Book That Has the YA Community Crying Foul

25 August 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

There are few better forms of publicity than landing a spot on the coveted New York Times bestseller list. It’s especially notable when a debut, by a largely unknown author, pulls off such a feat. For Lani Sarem, whose new novel Handbook for Mortals hit #1 on the newspaper’s YA hardcover list, the feat has not been met with plaudits from the publishing world. Instead, a number of members of the YA community have taken to social media claiming the book is only on the list because someone has manipulated its sales.

So-called gaming of the New York Times bestseller list is nothing new; there are even companies that specialize in manipulating sales to help authors hit the list. The effort is fairly simple, but often costly. Because the Times culls its list from point-of-sale data collected by a select (and secret) group of retailers, books with particularly high sales from these outlets have the potential to chart higher on the paper’s list. This, according to some YA authors—as well as a few agents and editors—is what is happening with Handbook for Mortals, which was published on August 15 by a new publishing arm of the pop culture news website, GeekNation.

Phil Stamper, a YA author who has taken to social media to unmask what he believes is a false bestseller, said the book started raising flags among those in the community right away. Calling the informal group “extremely close-knit,” Stamper said he and others “know and support” new books and authors. So, when a title no one had heard of landed at #1 on the Times‘ list, “we were all a little stumped.”

. . . .

Stamper said he and a team of others who have been investigating the book’s rise spoke to a Las Vegas-based bookseller who reported that 29 copies of the title had been ordered at all three of the city Barnes & Noble stores; Stamper noted that if the order had been any bigger “it would have been [considered] corporate sale” by the Times.

One bookseller outside of Las Vegas, who spoke to PW on the condition of anonymity, related a strange order for the book that she had fielded. She said the caller, who was looking to order the book, asked if her store was “a reporting one,” referring to the Times. He said he wanted copies of the book for an upcoming event, and insisted that the order needed to be placed on the day he was calling, which was Saturday. He wound up ordering 87 copies.

PW has also heard from sources that another independent bookstore received an order for 1,200 copies.

. . . .

Jeremy West, a writer and former YA book blogger, has, like Stamper, been investigating the matter. “As soon as I saw the list yesterday, it didn’t make sense to me,” he told PW. “The lack of social media buzz [for the book], the fact that no one in the young adult community was talking about it or had even heard of it… it all sounded fishy.”

West said after he started poking around, he wound up talking to five booksellers who shared similar stories about orders they had taken for the book. “They all said the same thing: someone called and placed a large order or asked about placing a large bulk order ‘for an upcoming event.’ “

. . . .

At press time, the New York Times sent a note to subscribers of its bestseller lists alerting them to a revision to its Young Adult Hardcover list. A spokesperson told PW, “After investigating the inconsistencies in the most recent reporting cycle, we’ve decided that the sales for Handbook for Mortals do not meet our criteria for inclusion. We’ll be issuing an updated Young Adult Hardcover list for September 3 which will not include that title.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG checked what was happening with the book on Amazon. When he checked last night, it had an average of three stars with 23 customer reviews.

When PG checked the reviews, he found about half were five stars with relatively short comments, some of which sounded pretty generic. One of the negative reviews noted that most of the five star reviews were by new readers who had only reviewed this one book.

The other half of the reviews were one-star, often emphatic that the book was terrible and a lot of the favorable reviews were fake.

There is a favorable “Editorial Review” by “Skye Turner, International Bestselling Author”.  PG checked Skye’s latest book, published in May, 2017, and discovered its sales rank is #627,532 Paid in Kindle Store.

Here’s the author’s bio:

Lani Sarem basically grew up in the entertainment industry. She began acting at age three and continued to act and perform through her early years. Lani began writing scripts when she was eleven. Over the years she has become a jack-of-all-trades in the entertainment business. She became a rock n’ rolly gypsy at fifteen and started touring with bands and working on festivals. She’s toured with everyone from Ryan Adams to Gnarls Barkley. She also became one of the youngest female managers in the business and managed bands like the Plain White T’s, 100 Monkeys and Blues Traveler. Lani has appeared in films like Mall Cop 2, Jason Bourne, and Trailer Park Shark. Handbook for Mortals is a debut novel of a series of books, which are also being made into feature films.


Amazon Titles Dominate Amazon E-book Bestseller List

30 July 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

The biggest surprise in our annual roundup of bestsellers for the January-June period came on the Amazon Kindle e-book bestsellers list. The sheer number of bestsellers that were published by the e-tailer’s own in-house publishing imprints—fiction and popular nonfiction imprint Lake Union, mystery imprint Thomas & Mercer, literary fiction imprint Little A, and Montlake Romance—was remarkable. Amazon had 12 of its own titles on its e-book list, a stark contrast not only from the BookScan print list but from Amazon’s list for the first half of last year, which saw only a single Lake Union title make the cut, and that in its final slot. (Beneath a Scarlet Sky, a Lake Union title, was #2 this year.)

In response to inquiry, a representative from Amazon denied that anything has changed. “Nothing has changed in the way we count sales,” she wrote in an email. “We haven’t changed how titles are promoted. These titles are priced competitively and participate in new and growing reading programs like Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited.”

. . . .

Relevant backlist dystopian fiction also had a moment. Both Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 were in the BookScan top 20 and on Amazon’s list of Kindle e-book bestsellers, where the Atwood—which was adapted as a critically acclaimed Hulu original television series starring Elizabeth Moss earlier this year—took the top slot overall. (Vance also found his way onto the Amazon list, at #20.)

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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.


Amazon Takes On New York Times Bestseller List As Standard For Book Success

19 May 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Amazon has long featured bestseller lists track sales ranking by the hour, but what the e-commerce giant has lacked is a weekly list. That changed this week with the launch of Amazon Charts, a new feature that will include not only the top 20 bestsellers at the retailer in both fiction and nonfiction, but also the 20 most read books in both categories. Adult books and children’s books will be included on the lists.

The “most sold” chart will rank bestsellers based on aggregated sales (including pre-orders), as well as books borrowed. Sales will be based on activity from all of Amazon’s platforms (,, and Amazon Books), and across all formats (print, digital, digital audio and books read through Amazon’s subscription services).

. . . .

The “most read” list will be based on titles read, or listened to, via Kindle devices and Audible. Naggar thinks that feature will reflect “what is going on in the zeitgeist” more than Amazon’s lists based solely on sales.

Both lists will be unconventional. There is a buy button on each bestseller, as well as an icon that lets readers view a few pages of the book (via the company’s Kindle Instant Preview technology). Other features are intended to provide fun insights into the books on the list; Amazon, for example, will tag books as that its data indicates were “unputdownable.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PW is pretty low-key — “both lists will be unconventional” — about something that PG thinks will upend tradpub bestseller metrics.

From a practical standpoint, which list will drive the most sales – NYT or Amazon’s? PG suggests the list that is seen by the most people will drive the most sales.

According to Statista, on average, 183 million users have visited Amazon’s websites per month in 2017. According to SimilarWeb, during the last six months, Amazon had 2.2 billion visits (visits, not visitors). Amazon doesn’t report the number of worldwide active customer accounts any more, but, in 2015, that number was over 300 million.

And, finally, 80% of all US Amazon customers purchase something from Amazon at least once per month.

According to CNN, the “Trump Bump” powered a big increase in New York Times subscribers during Q4 of 2016 and Q1 of 2017, bumping digital and print subscriptions past 3 million.

Fortune has a different take:

Amazon is creating its own version of the New York Times bestseller list.

The e-commerce giant debuted a new formula on Thursday for ranking books sold on its site called Amazon Charts. The new list, which will be updated weekly, will track the top 20 most sold on the site and the most read books.

Link to the rest at Fortune

Deadline Hollywood is even more enthusiastic:

Amazon Takes On New York Times Bestseller List As Standard For Book Success

Amazon continues to disrupt the publishing industry. After changing the way books are consumed — and pushing out brick-and-mortar booksellers in the process — the online goliath is now taking on The New York Times Bestseller List, forever been the standard of success for authors and publishers.

. . . .

Things have never been cordial between Amazon and The New York Times Bestseller List. The latter uses its own algorithm that insiders say excludes books that Amazon publishes on its own imprint because they are not sold in bookstores. Amazon has the ability not only to know how many books are sold online, but how many are actually read.

Link to the rest at Deadline Hollywood

PG suspects the NYT bestseller lists will continue to be authoritative in Manhattan while Amazon Charts will be the go-to lists for the rest of the world.

That Day I Decided to Stop Chasing the Bestseller Lists

19 March 2017

From author Marie Force:

I’ll admit it. I’d become a bit of a whore for it, and I’m not proud of that. After the first time it happens, it becomes a little addicting, the high of realizing you’re one of the top-selling authors in the country in a given week. Wowza. I vividly remember the day I first made the USA Today list in November of 2012. It was Thanksgiving Day, and I hit no. 99 with Fatal Deception, the fifth book in my Fatal Series. I was overwhelmed and thrilled and incredulous at how I’d gone from being one of the most rejected authors I knew to a bestseller in only a couple of years.

Then it got better.

Waiting for Love, book 8 in my Gansett Island Series, hit no. 6 on the New York Times’ ebook list in February 2013.

What a thrill, especially when you consider that book 1 in the Gansett Island Series was rejected EVERYWHERE. So not only was it thrilling to have an indie-published book in a series that no one wanted, except my readers of course, be the first to hit the New York Times list—and in the top 10, no less, it was also extremely vindicating.

. . . .

I went on a bit of a tear with the bestseller lists after Waiting for Love hit. Over the next three years, there were another 26 NYT bestsellers and more than 30 USA Today bestsellers along with many Wall Street Journal bestsellers that I haven’t been as good about keeping track of. In short, I was on a roll, and it felt good. It was validating and vindicating and exciting—and incredibly stressful.

EVERYTHING was timed toward making the lists—release days and release week contests and promotion and advertising. It became a mini form of MADNESS that overtook my life every time a new book was released, and then came the breathless wait on Wednesdays for the lists to be released to validate what I already knew based on the sales—my book was a bestseller. I won’t deny that it was fun to celebrate the lists, and add to the collection of covers on my wall that my agent started as a tradition for each new listing, but I’ve known for more than a year now that this whole thing was starting to get a little out of control.

And that became VERY clear to me last summer. I was on vacation with family and friends in Block Island, my no. 1 happy place in the world, where I spent an entire Wednesday afternoon at the beach stressing out about how my new Fatal book would do on the bestseller lists.

. . . .

Earlier this year, in a move no one saw coming, The New York Times eliminated its ebook list, among many other lists that were cut. I want to say, for the record, that I totally disagree with this move, and it infuriates me that the NYT has basically given the shaft to authors who are KILLING IT on the digital side, which we all know is the future of the book business. They also eliminated the mass-market paperback list and made some other questionable moves that left a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering why. Now we’re hearing that USA Today is considering eliminating its bestseller list, too.

I feel for the scores of authors who had the NYT list as a “someday” goal. I hate that it has become almost impossible for authors who are nearly 100 percent digitally published to make the NYT list, even if they sell 25,000 books in a week. I always thought USA Today is a much bigger deal because it highlights ALL the books sold in the country in ALL formats on one list. Because it takes a lower number of sales to score a spot on the back end of the list, USA Today has been viewed by some as somewhat of a stepchild to the vaunted NYT. But I think most authors would agree that hitting the top 50 on USA Today is a pretty big deal when you look at who else is with you on that list on any given week.

If you are an author who is yet to hit a list and that is your goal, I want you to know that I fully support your goals and aspirations, and I understand them completely. I understand the need for that feather in your cap because I once had the same need for the feather. I am rooting for ALL of you to get there someday if that is what you want, and I will always celebrate my author friends and colleagues who make the lists.

Link to the rest at Marie Force Blog

Here’s a link to Marie Force’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Behind the Scam: What Does It Take to Be a ‘Best-Selling Author’? $3 and 5 Minutes.

5 February 2017

From Medium:

I would like to tell you about the biggest lie in book publishing. It appears in the biographies and social media profiles of almost every working “author” today. It’s the word “best seller.”

This isn’t about how The New York Times list is biased (though it is). This isn’t about how authors buy their way onto various national best-seller lists by buying their own books in bulk (though they do). No, this is about the far more insidious title of “Amazon Bestseller” — and how it’s complete and utter nonsense.

Here’s what happened in the book industry over the last few years: As Amazon has become the big dog in the book world, the “Amazon Bestseller” status has come to be synonymous with being an actual bestseller. This is not true, and I can prove it.

. . . .

 A while ago, I put up a fake book on Amazon. I took a photo of my foot, uploaded to Amazon, and in a matter of hours, had achieved “№1 Best Seller” status, complete with the orange banner and everything.

. . . .

How many copies did I need to sell to be able to call up my mother and celebrate my newfound authorial achievements? Three. Yes, a total of three copies to become a best-selling author. And I bought two of those copies myself!

The reason people aspire to call themselves “bestselling author” is because it dramatically increases your credibility and “personal brand.” It can establish you as a thought leader. You’re able to show that you not only wrote a book, but that the market has judged it to be better than other books out there. It’s a status symbol, one of that cashes in on the prestige of one of man’s oldest past-times. At last, I had acquired this coveted title for myself.

. . . .

 It used to be a real mark of distinction to hit the best-seller lists–because there were fewer lists and fewer authors (and before ebooks, pricing across books was pretty universal as well). The New York Times list has been the most prestigious, published in one form or another since 1931. By 1942, a national list made its debut, compiled according to “reports from leading booksellers in 22 cities.” By the mid-2000s, over 4,000 bookstores were polled each week to determine who deserved to be on the list. The Wall Street Journal list, which has been around since 2009, is based on Nielsen Bookscan and tends to focus on a smaller number of categories. The USA Today list is also a prestigious but more of a catch-all list.

Link to the rest at Medium and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

New York Times Cuts a Range of Bestseller Lists

27 January 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

The New York Times has eliminated a number of bestsellers lists, although the exact number could not be confirmed Thursday morning. Cutting the various lists is part of an overall plan by the paper to revamp its coverage of publishing.

A note sent on Wednesday to subscribers to the advance bestsellers lists said, “Beginning with the Advance BSL edition that will be delivered today for Feb. 5, 2017, there will be revisions to multiple categories in the publication. These changes will span weekly and monthly lists.”

. . . .

“Beginning February 5, the New York Times will eliminate a number of print but mostly online-only bestseller lists.

In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued. We will continue to cover all of these genres of books in our news coverage (in print and online). The change allows us to devote more space and resources to our coverage beyond the bestseller lists.

Our major lists will remain, including: Top 15 Hardcover Fiction, Top 15 Hardcover Nonfiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Fiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Nonfiction, Top 10 Children’s Hardcover Picture Books, Top 10 Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover Chapter Books, Top 10 Children’s Young Adult Hardcover Chapter Books, and Top 10 Children’s Series. Several more including Paperback Trade Fiction, Paperback Nonfiction, Business, Sports, Science, and Advice Miscellaneous will remain online. Readers will be notified that individual lists will no longer be compiled and updated by the New York Times on the relevant article pages.”

Among the lists that appear to have disappeared are the graphic novel/manga and the mass market paperback lists as well as the middle grade e-book and young adult e-book lists.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Cassandra for the tip.

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