Circling the Bandwagon: What Exactly IS a Bestseller?

May 22, 2012



“Music hit”

Is this terminology precise or puffery?

In the case of the cultural products we truck in – books, movies,  “albums” – it seems to be somewhere in between, an honest measurement that can nonetheless measure many different things.  It’s just important to keep in mind the listing source and the criteria it uses when comparing apples and oranges.

Some sources that bestow bestsellerdom on books are the New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and USA Today lists, among many others.  They all have their own criteria and methods for determining weekly sales ranks, the exact details of which are sometimes zealously kept secret (especially the NYT’s).  Some pull out age groups, formats, genre and fiction vs. non-fiction, where others (USA Today) tend to shuffle in most everything, which can be interesting.  Some survey retail outlets that are not primarily “bookstores” and some such as the American Booksellers Association’s survey only independent bookstores. ranks titles based on its own online sales.  A nice niche list I like to review occasionally is the CBA BSL, which surveys Christian bookstores and often explains holds queues for titles that aren’t otherwise on the radar.

For a more cumulative, forest-level view of book sales, consult the Bowker Annual Library and Book Trade Almanac, reservable from our Professional Collection.  Or if you’re willing to shell out tens of thousands of dollars you can try Nielsen BookScan or Book Industry Study Group (BISG) reports for the most rigorous sales analysis money can buy.  Personally, I’ll stick to what’s freely available. 

 Posted by Darren


2 Responses to “Circling the Bandwagon: What Exactly IS a Bestseller?”

  1. David Says:

    Back in the day, the record store I worked in was called weekly by Billboard to gather our best seller information. Naturally, we’d skew the response based on our personal favorites (I would dutifully report Fleetwood Mac or Peter Frampton, but toss in Brian Eno or Richard Thompson too.)
    Now all that information is downloaded weekly from the in-store sales database. No room for surprises anymore!
    Oh, and I’m sure the Billboard stringer knew exactly what we were up to…

  2. Darren Says:


    Wow, I haven’t been this disillusioned about a counting procedure since Bush vs. Gore. Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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