Arts and Culture

What Does ‘Bestseller” Really Mean?

by Kaleigh Steigman

The day I learned Miranda Sings, a messy red-lipped youtube star who aggressively belts pop songs, was considered a New York Times Best Selling Author was full of reevaluation. Before, I considered the title one of validity and pride. Now, I’m not so sure.

When I pick up a New York Times Best Selling Book, I expect it to be amazing. I want goosebumps and 3 a.m realizations. Many book lovers have purchased the novel, so it has earned the title and my affection, right? But after looking into the system of identifying Best Sellers, I don’t trust the title with the same intensity that I used to.

Book stores, primarily chains, from around the United States report sale lists directly to the New York Times, but the actual system of compiling data is a secret. Allegedly, the secrecy is so authors and booksellers can’t manipulate their way onto the list, but it seems like there are many inconsistencies within the system that weaken its validity.

The list relies solely on the honesty of bookstores, something that can’t always be counted on.
A store may manipulate data of certain books so that they become ‘Bestsellers’ before they have numerically become the most sold. This would encourage customers to come to their stores and buy the newest best selling books, which would make the store more money.

Also, due to the list’s weekly composition, it is possible that a book that never quickly sells but is consistently purchased over time can oversell a “Best Seller” without ever earning the title itself.

There also have been many conspiracies linked to the list that highlight its imperfections.

Ted Cruz, a current presidential candidate, published a book in 2015 named A Time for Truth. The book was not included in the list due to ample evidence showing “strategic bulk purchases” that were meant for the book to gain popularity.

In 2014, Mark Driscoll, author of Real Marriage, supposedly bought his way into the New York Times Best Sellers list. He formed a contract with ResultSource, a book marketing company, who, in turn, ordered 11,000 total copies of his book in one week successfully placing it at the number one spot in the Advice section of the list in January.

The list has been questioned several times in the past, notable by Forbes with “Here’s How You Buy Your Way Onto The New York Times Bestseller List”, and by the Los Angeles Times with their story “Can Bestseller Lists be Bought?”

Having said all of this, I don’t plan on completely disregarding the title in the future. The people managing the list have several things in place to ensure that, most of the time, the information they are presenting is accurate.

Book stores reporting data are asked to mark bulk sales with a special mark so the the list isn’t misinterpreted.

Also, stores are expected to share the number of books they have sold to customers, not the amount they purchased for the store. This further ensures that the list reflects consumer preference.

Over the years, the list has branched out from simply containing the best fiction stories; lists such as ‘Children’s’ and ‘Advice’ have been created to reflect a wider range of opinions.

The ultimate goal of a best seller list is to recognize an author and book that are above average. Does the New York Times list accomplish this? Mostly. The bottom line is that being on a list isn’t the quintessential purpose of a novel, thus the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’

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