The New York Times Bestseller Lists Have Become Even More Irrelevant

When I first heard about the changes to the New York Times Bestseller List, I was annoyed and irritated. The elimination of many of the online lists seemed designed to protect publishing from the forces of change in the industry. The lists, with their focus on hardcover editions, the privileging of print and the de-emphasizing of digital books, and the elimination of a list for comics and graphic novels, ensure that the lists cater to a very specific notion of “best” and even “bestseller.” By not recognizing growing, diverse, and yes—popular—segments of publishing, they’ve become a relic that has long outlived its usefulness.

The New York Times Bestseller Lists are the ultimate get for publishers. They love slapping that designation on a book, knowing it will help it sell even more copies. A lot of authors dream of hitting that list, too.

But why is this list more important and prestigious than any other list?

Why do we give it such power?

Basically, because it’s always been that way.

Since the 1950s, The New York Times Bestseller lists have been the list, compiled by a super secret survey of booksellers asking about sales data of a pre-determined list of books.

Now, it’s even more elitist.

Not only have the comics and graphic novel lists been eliminated, which Book Riot Comics has already discussed, the Times also eliminated the mass market paperback list, the young adult paperback list, and YA and MG ebook lists.

These changes come less than 18 months after another major change, or “experiment” in the lists that the Times feature.

In 2015, the NYT bestseller lists made some updates to the way they handle the children’s and YA lists. Separating hardcovers from paperbacks let more books get in the mix. Paperbacks sell a lot more, so this was seen as a way to ensure that new releases got a chance to shine.

Much like the earlier addition of a series lists and the splitting of middle grade and YA into two, it seemed designed to broaden coverage and allow more books the chance of getting in the spotlight.

Of course the ebook lists allowed publishers to game the system—lower the price of the ebook dramatically, and you can make the list! This never bothered me, because it let some great books get traction and go on to sell well, and readers who like ebooks get a great deal. Win/win. The system was already unfair and open to manipulation, so the ebook list just gave publishers one more play.

So, while I don’t think that ebook deals will go away, I anticipate we won’t see deals quite as good or as frequently (but please, publishers, prove me wrong).

Eliminating the paperback list for YA means a lot of paperback originals won’t ever hope to hit the Times bestseller list. It means the lists will be more a reflection of what publishers put big marketing dollars behind and what the YA crossover audience is reading than what real actual teens are buying, since most teens can’t buy a ton of books in hardback.

It’s a bit sad for people who care about those things, but there are plenty of other venues to celebrate those books and ways to find out what books are really resonating with teens (like asking them or the librarians that help them find books).

So I just shrug. The Times lists don’t really reflect my reading reality, they don’t drive my reading decisions, and while I’m still not sure why it’s the gold standard for “making it” as an author, I’m less annoyed and irritated with these changes after some contemplation.

The NYT bestseller lists have always been editorial, rather than a reporting of fact. Eliminating the lists to focus on actual discussion of books and expanded coverage seems fine. Paying more graphic novelists and comic artists to write about their form is cool. Getting more diverse voices in publishing to spotlight content they care about seems reasonable. So I hope that’s what the New York Times will do.

If not, that’s what we’re doing here at Book Riot, and everyone can do on Goodreads, Twitter, or even in real life. Talk about books you love, and seek out stories that resonate with you. In the end, that’s what really matters.