Amazon is taking over — and why not? They seem to be taking over everything. They obviously know more about what books sell than anyone else, though they have always been reluctant to provide details. Maybe you got this email (pictured above) from them the other day. Their site gives a bit more information.

Publishing Perspectives has a piece about Amazon Charts as they are calling it. I see no reason why Amazon’s lists shouldn’t turn out to be more “authoritative” than the Times‘s. Heck, they even know the names and addresses of the people who bought the books, and in the case of ebooks, know how many pages each of their customers have read. (This forms the basis for their Most Read category, I assume.)

The New York Times lists have been showing their age. The fact that they are not really measures of sales but more of sales velocity makes them a bit fickle, but the belief persists that they sell books.

“Many people determine what book to buy based upon seeing the phrase, ‘New York Times Bestseller’.” says Rob Eagar in his piece How to Kill a New York Times Bestseller at BookBusiness. While I might doubt the validity of his bald statement, (I just don’t agree that 5% of responses in one small survey represents a lot) I have to agree that a publisher who fails to mention Bestseller status in their promotion is missing an obvious marketing opportunity.

But some of Mr Eagar’s criticism is just over-eagerness. Amazon and Barnes and Noble are responsible for their websites. Publisher uploads may form the basis of their copy, but these uploads happen well before the book is lucky enough to become a bestseller. Amazon certainly have a tab which takes you to “The New York Times® Best Sellers” and they naturally have no reason to hide any book’s light under any bushel. I suspect that much of the problem Mr Eagar identifies results from timing. You just have to get the change in the on-line copy made. It doesn’t happen by magic. And of course if the book hits the bestseller list only briefly, the on-line claim may end up being outdated as soon as it has been got up there; though of course that’s not a reason to suppress the historically interesting fact.

Mr Eager, rather innocently, states “Simply adding ‘New York Times Bestseller’ to the book cover art isn’t enough in most cases.” It isn’t even possible in most cases! The books on hand are the books on hand. If the publishers expected the book to be a bestseller they will have printed thousands of copies, and till these copies are sold there’s no opportunity to update the jacket. I bet that publishers do get a “Bestseller” note up on their own website pretty quickly, and create a cover image including the words, but it takes a reprint of the book to get the notice onto the jacket. Yes, they could of course print up a sticker — but who’s going to stick them on the books? Don’t think B&N is going to divert staff to do the job.

But whether there really are people who buy books solely based upon their being in a bestseller list — one has a fond, if outdated, image of Auntie Muriel wondering “What exciting book shall I get for young Billy’s birthday” — these listings clearly are a help in sustaining sales. Circularly of course a book only gets to be a bestseller by being a bestseller. For some, hitting the list coincides with the peaking of sales. In an earlier post I mentioned the Times‘s adding 12 new lists. Now they have reduced their lists by 10. Reaction as shown in Tolulope Edionwe’s piece at The Outline suggests the end of the world is at hand.

I expect that we will rather quickly transfer our loyalties from “New York Times bestseller” to “An Amazon bestseller”. Amazon’s ability to tell you more about the sales, (e.g.”More readers listened to Astrophysics for People in a Hurry on Audible than read the book on Kindle this week.”) adds significantly to the bare listings we’ve become used to. Could this reduce tensions between self-publishing aficionados and the traditional industry? One assumes that Amazon isn’t excluding self-published and indie-published books from consideration.