Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Truth Behind Bestseller Lists

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. 

27 comments:

magento solutions in chandigarh said...

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Dru said...

Thanks for this information. It's very interesting how the numbers game is played.

caryn said...

Interesting. One of those Gone Girl sales is sitting on my TBR pile.And one of Charlaine's sales resides on my kindle.

Kaye George said...

Thanks for putting all these figures together, Sandy. Very informative!

Anonymous said...

Sandy, you are simply amazing - all the research you do and give us so much information we'd never have otherwise! Thelma Straw

Michael Allan Mallory said...

Thanks for sharing.

Sandra Parshall said...

Obviously the low sales numbers for some "bestsellers" is a result of the overall declining sales for print books. If 10,000 sales per week were required, the bestseller lists would be awfully short. E-book revenues, OTOH, doubled in 2011. Here's a report:
http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2012/e-book-revenues-double-in-2011-top-2-billion/

Holly Price said...

So interesting! I had no idea that was how it worked! Thanks for keeping us informed!

Word Crafter said...

Very interesting just proves in fiction nothing is as it seems at first glance - it would seem in best sellers this is also true. Great post. Thanks Billie

G.M. Malliet said...

This is one of the most useful posts I've read on the subject. Thanks, Sandy.

Leslie Budewitz said...

"Obviously the low sales numbers for some "bestsellers" is a result of the overall declining sales for print books."

Yes, though the distinction between trade and mass market paperbacks is relatively recent, and the increase in trade pb fiction has had an impact as well. Add a category, dilute the individual impact -- if still tracked together, total paperback sales would still be down, but not so dramatically.

Cindy Sample said...

That was fascinating, Sandy. The numbers were far lower than I would have thought. Do you know how many e-book sales it takes to make the best seller list?

Sandra Parshall said...

Cindy, I have no idea. I'm not sure whether those figures are available anywhere.

Morgan Mandel said...

Thanks for the info! Goes to show there's hope to have a bestseller!

Morgan Mandel
http://morgansbooklinks.blogspot.com

Sandra Parshall said...

Remember that BookScan doesn't include sales to libraries, and I don't think any bestseller list does. With some books, more copies are sold to libraries than to retail customers.

Sally Carpenter said...

Is the day of multi-million dollar book sales over?

Sandra Parshall said...

Sally, a handful of writers still sell vast numbers of books, not just in the US but all over the world, and they still command huge advances. But as e-books continue to gain market share, the number of books selling over 100,000 copies in print is shrinking year by year.

Pat Browning said...

I honestly don't pay attention to best-seller lists, but a few years ago I heard from a sales rep that he took orders from bookstores, the publisher shipped X number of books as "sold" and if they didn't move off the shelves in X number of days or weeks they were returned to the publisher. He didn't say whether the books then fell off the best-seller list but surely they did.

Our local library stocks mostly best sellers in the crime fiction category. Is that what people want or what people think they want?

I like amateur sleuth mysteries, regional mysteries and small press mysteries and depend on Amazon to carry them.

Pat Browning

Jeri Westerson said...

3,000 books sold in one week is still a helluva a lot of books. Don't make the mistake of thinking that it isn't. Looks like I'll still never sell that many in one week unless Hollywood comes knocking on my door.

Sandra Parshall said...

Yes, it is a lot of books, Jeri. However, I think a lot of people, including writers, have the idea that every book on the bestseller list is selling far more than that. Where did the 10,000-copy myth originate?

Sandra Parshall said...

The real irony is that someone can be a "bestselling author" and still not make enough money to live on comfortably -- especially if the books are mass market paperbacks, which might yield a royalty of 50-56 cents per copy. The more books you have available, of course, the better your chances of making a living.

Julie Kramer said...

Great job of leaving to rest all these bestseller myths. Yours is the most interesting blog I've read in a long time. Thanks, Sandra.

Susan Oleksiw said...

These figures are very sobering. They certainly remind us of the thin line between bestsellerdom and just another book on the market. Even worse, writers who don't sell more than the low five figures are probably struggling to keep publishers interested in their next book.

Gloria Alden said...

Very interesting and informative, Sandy. Our local newspaper only prints the top 7 in hardcover, nonfiction, trade and mass paperback. I can always count on certain names to be on at least one of those lists and sometimes more. The sale of hardcovers going down has to be because of their high price. I buy a lot of books, but rarely a hardcover.

Mickie Turk Author said...

Thanks for the great info. I have always thought hardcovers were harder to cozy up to, and, now, they are out reach, cost-wise.

Mickie Turk Author said...

I just saw this: Adult Fiction eBooks Outsold Hardcovers In 2011

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/book-statistics-2011_n_1684473.html?utm_hp_ref=books

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