The New York Times Makes Major Changes To Their Weekly World-Famous Bestsellers List

You know how when you go to the bookstore, a whole lot of books say “New York Times Bestseller” on the cover? Yeah, well, get ready to see less and less of that in the future.

The publishing world was thrown a curveball yesterday when news broke that The New York Times has made significant changes to their world-famous weekly bestseller lists. 

Publishers Weekly was one of the first media outlets to confirm the shakeup, calling its cuts “part of an overall plan by the paper to revamp its coverage of publishing.” Subsequently, The New York Times released the following statement: 

Beginning February 5, the New York Times will eliminate a number of print but mostly online-only bestseller lists.

In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued. We will continue to cover all of these genres of books in our news coverage (in print and online). The change allows us to devote more space and resources to our coverage beyond the bestseller lists.

Our major lists will remain, including: Top 15 Hardcover Fiction, Top 15 Hardcover Nonfiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Fiction, Top 15 Combined Print and E Nonfiction, Top 10 Children’s Hardcover Picture Books, Top 10 Children’s Middle Grade Hardcover Chapter Books, Top 10 Children’s Young Adult Hardcover Chapter Books, and Top 10 Children’s Series. Several more including Paperback Trade Fiction, Paperback Nonfiction, Business, Sports, Science, and Advice Miscellaneous will remain online. Readers will be notified that individual lists will no longer be compiled and updated by the New York Times on the relevant article pages.”

Citing New York Times Book Review Editor Pamela Paul as their source, The Washington Post confirmed that the newspaper will discontinue, among other things, lists for both Hardcover and Paperback Graphic Novels–and obtained feedback from authors who were displeased with the decision. 

The biggest thing, especially as it concerns the thriller world, is the removal of the mass market paperback lists. Giving the axe to the mass market fiction (and nonfiction) list has, undoubtedly, left many people in the industry both upset and confused. 

In the past twenty-four hours, we’ve personally reached out to nearly two dozen people–a combination of authors, publicists, editors, and marketing individuals from numerous publishing houses–for comment. Unfortunately, not one single person was willing to go on the record, mostly for fear of crossing The New York Times, who have at times been accused of playing favorites when it comes to compiling their bestsellers lists. 

To provide context as to why these individuals we talked to may have a real cause for concern, it’s worth pointing out that The New York Times does not compile their lists strictly using data (sales numbers). As Sarah Weinman, reporting for Publishers Market Place pointed out, that may soon be changing. And from what we’ve heard from multiple industry sources, it would indeed be a welcomed change. 

The problem isn’t necessarily that The New York Times doesn’t go strictly by data to compile their list, it’s their lack of transparency on the matter. Nobody, outside of their own editorial staff, seems to really understand how books are slotted. 

Speaking anonymously, one New York Times bestselling author told us “most writers early in their career make landing on the Times list their number one goal. To take away the mass market paperback list will make that much more difficult for new authors. It’s a really, really sad thing.” 

Many readers are aware that publishers typically release paperback versions of titles that were originally printed in hardcover about a year after the book’s initial release. So a year after the hardcover hits bookstores, so too does the paperback version. It’s fairly common for publishers to print double (or more) the number of hardcovers, as the paperbacks are distributed far more broadly. This process leads to many authors missing out on the Times list with their hardcover, only to make the Paperback Fiction list a year later with the same title. 

What all that means is that it just became significantly harder for authors to become “New York Times bestsellers,” and at least one publisher isn’t happy about it.

Kensington Publishing Corporation, who primarily prints paperbacks, took to their official Facebook page yesterday to post a message from CEO Steve Zacharius: 

“The New York Times decided all of a sudden to eliminate some of the bestseller lists; most importantly the paperback bestseller list. There have been many publishing people who have been writing to the NYT to share their feelings about this. The NYT bestseller list is the de facto standard when it comes to bestsellers; even though they use a non-standard method of reporting and it’s secretive. But the list is critical for increasing paperback sales because it draws attention to these bestselling authors. It’s important for readers, authors and accounts and especially for commercial fiction such as romance, mysteries and thrillers. If you feel that the NYT Paperback Bestseller list is important, please email the NYT and share your feelings.”

While shedding light on the “non-standard” and “secretive” method of reporting that we touched on above, Zacharius obviously takes issue with the fact that his authors could now struggle to draw attention from the Times, who possess a significant amount of influence with readers all across the world. 

Again, while nobody would agree to go on the record, we can assure you that Zacharius is not alone in his frustration by the recent development. At least one editor speculated to us that the Times decision may have been financially motivated. They theorized that publishers will now feel compelled to sink more cash into advertising their titles in The New York Times newspaper and on their website. 

We’re interested to hear what you, the readers, think about all of this. Leave us a comment with your thoughts on the Times’ recent changes, and whether or not you think this will have any impact on which books you buy in the future. 

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