By Sandra Parshall
Publishers Weekly, which uses Nielsen BookScan figures for its bestseller lists, has begun publishing the actual number of units of each book that were sold in the previous week – and those numbers might make you rethink what you “know” about bestsellers.
BookScan, I should point out, reports about 75% of all book sales in the U.S. Nielsen collects sales data from booksellers but not from Wal-Mart, Hudson airport stores, and similar outlets. The New York Times bestseller list uses numbers collected from a selection of vendors. Neither list will tell you precisely how many copies of a book have been sold – only the publisher has that information – but they give a broad overview of what is selling well. You will seldom see much difference between the BookScan/PW list and the N.Y. Times list.
I’ve always heard that 10,000 copies sold in a single week was the threshold number for making bestseller lists. But only the top three titles on the PW hardcover fiction list sold that many or more units in the week of July 2-8 through the vendors reporting to BookScan. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn sold 25,391 copies (total sales after five weeks on the market: 91,786); Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich sold 13,049 copies for the week (total after three weeks: 69,839); and The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner, in its first week after publication, sold 11,708 units.
Below the top three, the drop-off is steep. Most novels in the top 25 sold fewer than 5,000 copies for the week, and several sold less than 3,000.
Number 4, Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand, sold 7,825 copies in its second week on the bestseller list (total to date: 19,637). Karin Slaughter’s new release, Criminal, jumped onto the bestseller list after publication and made number 5 with sales of 7,749 units for the week (total to that date: 8,270).
Some books have been out so long that they’ve already racked up impressive sales. Although John Grisham’s Calico Joe sold only 6,534 units during the week between July 2 and 8, it has been on all the bestseller lists for more than three months and had total BookScan sales of 263,689 copies as of July 8.
Other books that continue to make the list after many weeks are:
George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons (total after 52 weeks: 115,591);
The Storm by Clive Cussler (73,306 total sales after six weeks);
11th Hour by Patterson/Paetro (175,292 after nine weeks);
The Innocent by David Baldacci (191,510 after 12 weeks);
Stolen Prey by John Sandford (108,292 after eight weeks);
The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (151,197 after 11 weeks);
Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris (166,191 after 10 weeks).
Deadlocked came in 25th on the PW list, although only 2,812 copies were sold that week. A new book, Iron Gray Sea by Taylor Anderson, made number 24 with sales of only 2,897 copies. Another just-published title, one that’s getting a lot of attention, is Gold by Chris Cleave. It made the PW hardcover bestseller list – number 20 – but sold only 3,184 copies nationwide that week.
The mass market paperback list tells a similar story, with only the top six books selling more than 10,000 copies during the reporting week and the bottom six selling fewer than 5,000.
On the trade paperback list, the three “Grey” novels are leaving everything else in their dust. Fifty Shades of Grey sold 253,336 copies during the week of July 2-8 and had sales of 4,165,759 units up to that date. Fifty Shades Darker sold 177,759 units that week, and Fifty Shades Freed sold 157,865.
On the whole, sales of trade paperback fiction were better than either hardcover or mass market. Trade sales have been improving slightly in recent weeks, while hardcovers continue a slow decline and mass market paperbacks are in free fall, having lost nearly a quarter of their sales in the past year.
The Kindle bestseller list looks much the same as BookScan’s combined (hardcover and paperback) list, although the order of books is somewhat different and a few older titles, such as The Help by Kathryn Stockett, continue to be e-book bestsellers.
What does all this mean? Only that it takes far fewer sales these days than you might imagine to make the bestseller lists. And the huge sales of the few books at the top emphasize how wide the gap is between achieving true mega-success and rising just far enough to claim the label of bestselling author.